In case you didn’t have it marked on your calendar, today, Oct. 1, is World Vegetarian Day, which kicks off Vegetarian Awareness Month. The month-long “celebration” was proclaimed as such by the North American Vegetarian Society in 1977 and “endorsed” by the International Vegetarian Union in 1978.
According to NAVS, World Vegetarian Day “kicks off a month of parties, potlucks, presentations, food tasting displays ... and lots of friendly discussions!”
NAVS also encourages people to “Make a difference this October by informing others about the benefits of vegetarianism. You will be helping to create a better world because vegetarian diets have proven health benefits, save animals’ lives and help to preserve the Earth.”
Sigh…Let’s begin with that last sentence — the one that informs us, without any documentation, that we can solve many of the world’s problems by adopting a meatless diet. We’ll agree that a person can be healthy eating a vegetarian diet, but dieticians warn they must make sure they consume protein, iron and a handful of other nutrients that may be missing from a plant-based diet, and which are readily available from meat.
As for saving animals’ lives, one can certainly make the argument that if everyone was a vegetarian most of those animals wouldn’t be alive because humans wouldn’t have bred and raised them.
But the most preposterous statement is that becoming a vegetarian helps “preserve the Earth.” That statement is one vegetarians and activists have been repeating often lately. Agriculture, and livestock production in particular, are criticized for contributing significantly to global warming, a claim that has been soundly debunked by various scientific experts.
One of the latest terms activists are using to disparage beef is “water footprint.” A water footprint is a way of measuring consumption, as in the outlandish claim that producing a pound of beef takes anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 gallons of water. Newsweek once reported that the water required by a 1,000-pound steer over its lifetime “would float a destroyer.”
That’s hogwash, of course. Jim Oltjen, in the Department of Animal Science at U.C. Davis, says a pound of beef actually requires 441 gallons of water. In 1999, the CAST Animal Agriculture and Global Food Supply Report came to almost the same conclusion, after considering all factors in beef cattle production related to water —consumption, irrigation and processing — saying it took 435 gallons of water to produce a pound of boneless beef.
Still, I find this debate about water usage a little strange. Strange because the water does not disappear — it’s not like oil or gasoline, which, when burned as fuel, is actually consumed. No, water finds its way back into the environment. Granted, water in a region such as Los Angeles may be a precious resource, one which should not be wasted. But are the millions of gallons of water that fall on an Iowa cornfield each summer wasted? Does that water not recycle? And what if it wasn’t corn in that field — would not the same amount of rain fall on the field?
But, just for the sake of argument with the good folks at the North American Vegetarian Society, let’s assume we could wave a magic wand and turn all Americans into vegetarians. Would we have enough to eat? Certainly, we would need to make the Corn Belt the Vegetable Belt, replacing corn and soybeans with asparagus and honey dew melons. And millions of acres of celery, lettuce and tomatoes, too.
Small problem. How are we going to harvest all of those vegetables? There are no mechanical harvesters or pickers available now for most of those vegetables. That means the job must be done by ha