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The environmental benefits of vegetarianism

Meat production is not only cruel, but it also brings with it a host of threats to China’s – and the world’s – fragile ecology. If you want to go green, go veggie, writes Jiang Jingsong.

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There is no need to recount the litany of China’s environmental disasters; catastrophes such as the blue-green algae that choked Taihu Lake appear daily on our TV screens and in our newspapers. Protecting our environment may today be the biggest challenge that faces humanity.

Many will turn to science for a solution. But reality demonstrates that relying on science alone will not lead to success. Unless we change our lifestyles, scientific advances will only accelerate damage to the environment.

It would take a day to fell a large tree in the past, and it would be months or even years before that tree was turned into processed wood and used to construct buildings in a far-off city. But now the lumber industry can flatten entire forests in very little time, and have the wood converted into floors and furniture in a matter of days. We do not have the respect and awe for nature that, in other times, held what little industrial capacity there was in check. The loss of this “superstition”, combined with the driving force of capitalism, has meant nothing now restrains us from using our technology to squeeze every last drop of profit from nature.

 

In certain respects, vegetarianism is a higher moral choice. It avoids the killing and enslavement of animals, and it helps protect the environment. The converting of fodder to meat involves massive waste – any given area of land can support 20 times as many vegetarians as meat-eaters. South America’s tropical rainforests are being felled to provide pasture for livestock – and even these pastures are not used in a sustainable manner and are quickly abandoned. Every hamburger results in the loss of around 6.25 cubic metres of forest.

 

But industrialised farming doesn’t only cause suffering to animals – it also creates massive amounts of pollution. Figures show that every kilogram of beef requires 10,000 litres of water and produces 40 kilograms of excrement. More dung is produced than the environment can cope with, and since it cannot all be used as fertiliser it ends up in the natural world.

 

Industrial farming is a burden for an already fragile ecology; it has increased the numbers of cattle and the methane they produce, which is a significant contributor to global warming. It has led to the accumulation of harmful chemicals in ever-longer food chains; the appearance of pharmaceutical additives in animal fodder; and the loss of topsoil due to over-grazing.

 

History shows that our current lifestyles and values are not conducive to solving these environmental issues. Yet if we adjusted our ways, this could be done. Vegetarians, simply by resisting the temptations of meat, can avoid contributing to these problems.

 

Giving up meat may seem like a grim prospect to many, but really it is not so bad. Vegetarians are more healthy and vigorous than their meat-eating counterparts. Ten-time Olympic medal winner Carl Lewis is a vegetarian, along with many successful athletes in fields where endurance is key, such as cycling, long-distance running and swimming. In many western countries, vegetarianism is common among those who take care of their health, and it is a fashionable choice for the young.

 

Many people in China today misunderstand vegetarianism; they confuse the conscious decision to refuse meat – for the sake of the environment and animal welfare – with the enforced vegetarianism of poverty. The latter diet is, of course, unhealthy. However, this is due the inadequate, monotonous and unbalanced diet that poverty brings, rather than the lack of meat in itself. Vegetarianism as a choice, with an adequate and balanced nutritional intake, is a perfectly healthy option.

 

However, many people still find it an unpalatable option, and feel the diet cannot satisfy their taste for meat. Generations of Chinese cuisine have made meat-eating a strong part of our culture, and a vegetarian diet seems like an inferior choice. But pay a bit more attention to the culinary arts, and the flavour of vegetarian cooking is in no way second-rate. First-time diners at vegetarian restaurants are often surprised at how good a meat-free meal can taste. Vegetarian restaurants in China have a long history of producing meals designed to mimic the taste and texture of meat – a godsend for those recent converts who still lust for that meaty taste. And there is no need to be strictly vegetarian all the time; you can choose the degree and duration of your commitment as it suits your lifestyle.

 

China’s tradition of Buddhism means vegetarianism once had a strong following. But today we have a lower percentage of vegetarians than western countries. There are many reasons for this, one being the low-level of education about the environmental benefits of meat-free living, another being the general lack of ecological awareness. However, Peking University founded its Vegetarian Society in 2000, and a number of leading universities now have groups advocating the rejection of meat. Vegetarianism is an up-and-coming youth movement in China, promoted by those with a sense of social and environmental responsibility. It has a bright future, and people who care about the environment should pay attention – and maybe even join us.

Homepage photo by mac_vegetarian

 
 

Jiang Jingsong, Doctor of Philosophy, Tsinghua University Institute of Science, Technology and Society.

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评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

政府管得太宽了吧

吃素吃肉的自由都没有?
趁身体还能消化肉食,赶紧吃肉。别等老了病了想吃都吃肉不下的时候后悔。

Surely the government is managing too much

Not having the freedom to eat or not eat meat? While the body is still able to digest meat, we should eat it. Don't wait until we are old and sick, and want to eat meat but can't - we'll regret it.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

素食一点说法

政府的官员也是家庭和教育作用下培养出来的。这种容易使人随波逐流的社会风气是一种风气,如果不从民间或教育上开始潜移默化的修正过来,以我目前的智慧,不知道有什么更好的办法。所以我认为推广素食很有意义和利益。一个食素的家庭产生不了多坏的念头,产生的几率也小。
但是推广素食不应该是单一的,素食受很多因素的影响。也就是说和多因素可以促成大家吃素。
同时素食不是终极目标,一个连自己都不开心,没办法做对社会有意义事业,不能利人利己的素食者,还不如一个不懂素食的真正好心人。

为在地震中受灾的人们发心祈福,愿祖国母亲健康如意吉祥。

About vegetarian

Government officials are also influenced by family and education. The trend that induce people to follow the others could not be solved, in my point of view, if we don't start from the revision on civil or educational level. Therefore, I think it's very meaningful and beneficial to promote vegetarian. However, it's not singular, which is influenced by many factors. At the same time, vegetation is not the ultimate goal; one who is not happy could not contribute to the society. Vegetarians who could not benefit oneself as well as the others is no better than a true warm-hearted person who knows little about vegetarian. Pray sincerely for those who suffered from the earthquake. Wish my homeland all well.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

谢谢

我是一个住在中国素食者的外国人。有人对于这个话题有关使我非常开心!

(编辑注:评论翻译由本读者提供)

Thanks

As a vegetarian foreigner in China, I am happy to see that some people do care about this matter.

Default thumb avatar
meter

如果吃肉,你会病的老的更快!

建议您读一读《中国健康调查报告》,肉食每天摄取15-16%就可以启动癌症。

If you eat meat, you will age and get sick quicker!

Suggested reading of "The China Study", daily intake of meat 15-16% can initiate cancer.

Default thumb avatar
meter

不是人们不愿意素食,而是素食的利益宣传的太少

我三年前开始素食,但一直只是独自一人默默地吃,直到去年到现在了解了素食的对自己对社会对地球的大量利益后,才开始宣传推广素食。半年时间我的家人(10位)已全部接受了素食,而且他们的健康变得更好,我们的关系也更亲密。身边的亲朋好友也慢慢地接受了素食,有爱心以及身患慢性病的两种朋友接受最快,得益也最多!

promoting on vegetarianism is insufficient

I became vegetarian three years ago, eating alone and silently. Only from last year to now have I understood the huge benefits of vegetarianism - for myself, towards society and the planet, and that's when I started promoting and encouraging it. In half a year I have persuaded my whole family (10 people) to accept vegetarianism, and their health has improved, as well as our relations. Some of my close friends are also gradually converting to vegetarianism, and two of those with chronic illnesses were the quickest to do so, and the most glad to do so!