"Americans now spend more money on fast food -- $110 billion a year -- than they do on higher education. They spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music -- combined." -- Eric Schlosser in "Fast food Nation"
Today, there is a problem with the way our world works. Today, millions of people around the world are needlessly starving. Why are they starving? The way that Americans consume food is contributing to the starvation of men, women, and children in foreign countries worldwide.
Are Americans being tricked into buying food that is hurting themselves and other countries? The impact that food consumption has on the rest of the world is definitely a problem of which few seem to be aware. Another problem is that American meat consumption is at an all time high and that it causes decreased amounts of available food in other third and fourth world countries. Americans enjoy the benefit of having products from many countries available, and the greater benefit of trade with places further than the imagination can stretch. Trade has been a great blessing to America; unfortunately, American culture is inadvertently impacting other countries negatively. People around the world watch American programming, they are surrounded by American junk; they live in impoverished towns and houses because we as Americans are using them. America has never formally colonized a country. Why would it need to when all that had to be done is to bewitch the people into believing that American culture is better? American commerce is using the land in a foreign country, the hard work of a foreign people, the natural resources in a land far away, all to grow the food to support its own nation.
What is the cause of these avoidable problems? The amount of livestock around the world is at an all time high, and according to Motavalli, "since 1961 the amount of livestock worldwide has increased 60%." On average America uses nearly half of all water, 70% of grain produced, and a third of all fossil fuel products found naturally in its borders to produce meat products every year (Motavalli). America isn't even the top producer of beef; the statistics in other countries are even more staggering. Other countries strain to keep their population of humans and cows in balance. They struggle to feed the humans because the beef industry is more profitable and gets a larger share of available resources. The global impact meat production has on the earth is thought provoking as well. Americans may find it interesting to know that, according to Audette (et al) "producing 1/4 pound of beef produces 1.5 ounces of methane." Methane, in general, is not good for the atmosphere, and is thought to have a deleterious effect on the ozone layer, which aggravates the greenhouse effect. Also, it takes roughly 4.8 pounds of grain, or 16 pounds of grass, to produce a pound of beef on average (Motavalli, McKibben). How much bread could that make? How many people could be fed by the grain that goes into one pound of beef?
On average, a pound of wheat takes 60 pounds of water to grow and produce; on the other hand, it takes 2,500-6,000 pounds of water to produce a pound of beef (Motavalli). Fortunately, water is a fairly renewable resource; unfortunately it takes time, energy, and other means to clean dirty water, therefore water conservation is a prudent idea. Industrial byproduct from factory farms is also a major issue. Motavalli, in his paper, quotes an estimate of 87,000 pounds of livestock waste per second. Improper disposal of that byproduct has been in issue in America and the world in the past. According to the EPA the major form of pollution in American waterways is animal waste, and in 1996 1.4 billion tons were released into the water systems (qtd. in Motavalli). Of course animals make waste, everything poops, it is a fact of life. Manure is used to fertilize plants to make them grow better as well. The difference between manure used to fertilize, and manure that is waste and in the way, is one, the sheer number of tons in question; and two, the fact that it gets into the nations water supply, and then the people drink that water. In response, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) compares the 1989 Exxon/Valdez oil spill, where 12 million gallons of oil were accidentally dumped into the Alaskan Bay area; to the 1995 New River hog waste spill in North Carolina. In the New River alone 25 million gallons of excrement and urine were dumped, killing about 10-14 million fish, and closing 364,000 acres of coastal shell fishing (Motavalli). The Exxon/Valdez oil spill was hard on Alaska's ecosystem, but the New River byproduct spill in North Carolina easily compares to the damage that was done in Alaska. Obviously there should be greater measures taken to insure that a spill like that never happens again, since there are now regulations insuring that oil spills are infrequent.
An unnamed Harvard nutritionist was quoted in Motavalli saying that, "If Americans were to reduce their meat production by just 10%, that would free up food for 60 million people." That's a lot of food that could affect a lot of people, more than twice all of the people who live in New York City. Americans are some of the worst consumers in the world, according to McKibben, if everyone ate like the typical American the earth alone would only be able to sustain 2.5 billion people and it would take 3 planets like the earth to sustain the world's current population. On the other hand McKibben states that, "if the entire world ate like the people in India do, the planet could support 10 billion easily." In fact, the way that the people in India eat, since they are almost all strictly vegetarian is very ideal. Almost everyone there eats foods that are high in starch, meaning they can eat a small amount of food and feel just as full as someone who consumes high amounts of protein.
Americans seem fairly willing to help people in need, and it's odd that something so simple as a change in diet would make so many people hostile. Yet, a change in diet would be healthy to the average American and would certainly be beneficial to all the economies that are being stretched because of this lavish diet the American culture has developed. Why is it so important to eat meat at every meal? Years ago the average family couldn't afford it. Today, people can afford it, but why is there a need to spend the newfound money on meat? There is also a major push from American companies to get more people to consume animal products. Assuredly most people have heard or seen advertisements for beef -- "Beef. It's what's for dinner," milk -- "Got Milk?", pork -- "Pork, the other white meat," and cheese -- "Behold, the power of cheese." Americans are told that drinking milk will save their bones, indirectly told that eating beef is the American thing, and that it's somehow good for the human body. It's a sign of wealth, prosperity, and therefore all around American. Why are there opposite pushes in today's culture? One toward being ultra-thin, ultra-healthy, ultra-young and beautiful; and the other toward eating on the go, eating fast food, eating meat at every meal as though this is somehow going to fit hand in hand with one another. It is a problem.
Americans might think twice about the food that is consumed if knowledge about what it is that is being eaten was more readily available. According to Motavalli, statistically, "a single hamburger patty uses enough fuel in production to drive your car 20 miles." Of course that's subject to the car and the octane of the fuel but that is still a disturbing figure. If Americans not only conserved the grain that goes into the production of beef, but also conserved the amount of fossil fuels that go into producing meat, then maybe the price of gasoline wouldn't be so high. Americans might also find it shocking that a "single hamburger patty also causes the loss of 5 pounds of topsoil." (Motavalli) Topsoil is what keeps plants growing, without topsoil the dirt would all be hard and unrelenting. We need topsoil to grow things like grass in.
In the area of water, beef production doesn't do very well either. According to Motavalli "A person can save more water by not eating a pound of Californian beef than you do by not showering for a month. And that beef population alone takes more water than growing fruits or vegetables nationally combined." Imagine how much water a person could save by simply not eating a steak or a hamburger next time they go out to eat, or go to a ball game. The efficiency of raising cows is also troubling, since "when a field used to grow grain for cattle went to growing black beans it would produce 10 to 20 times more protein." (McKibben) Vegfam, a British non-profit organization also claims that 10 acres can support 60 people when growing soybeans, 24 when growing wheat, 10 when growing corn, 2 when raising cattle. Also, PETA claims, "because of deforestation for cattle land, each vegetarian saves 1 acre of rain forest a year."
Every year, Americans indirectly consume about 2,000 pounds of grain (Motavalli). And that according to Warshall and Imhoff, only 3% of USA soy goes to human consumption, 97% to cattle (livestock). Meat production always produces less raw food per pound than the amount of materials that goes into it. According to Audette (et al) "in 1979, 145 million tons of grain and soy were fed to cows, hogs, and chickens; but only 21 million tons of meat products including eggs were produced," that's a major deficit, with a loss of 124 million tons, that a lot of food that could have gone into a starving child's stomach. Instead it became just another few pounds of industrial byproduct to pollute American waterways. It became just another statistic.
Chris Wiley said "if Americans would reduce their beef consumption by half, it would tremendously help the efforts in the rain forest" (qtd. in Landry). What Wiley means, is that if American would get its act together and conserved the amount of beef each person at per week, over the years the amount of grain saved would be in the hundred billions. If that grain that was saved was made into bread, either by volunteer work, or by government placed jobs, the amount of poor and starving people that could be helped would be worth every effort. The idea of helping others is what America was founded on, now in a day the idea of "help myself," that is what the American public is truly about. And lastly, on average the nation's buying practices are a major key in the destruction of the rain forest. Americans spend so much money on fast food each year, and yet tropical ranchers are a favored source of beef for fast food restaurants (Cooper). Americans don't seem to get that they need to invest their money in what they stand for. Don't like the policy America's fast food restaurants have toward the ranchers in the South American rain forest? Stop eating fast food. Boycott what you do not believe in. Many people are concerned with saving the rain forest, but, truly the votes come down to what is eaten with this issue, and little is going to stop a system that has worked for years.
The horrors of the beef industry are not for the faint of heart; for they are many and not for the easily sickened. Nationally, 95% of factory-raised animals are moved by truck every year, these trucks are typically overcrowded so that there is no room to move (Motavalli). Many cows die due to overheating or freezing to death. Paint a picture of cows, being shoved into boxcars like onions into a box, with no one caring if they will fit. Some farmers have to cut off the horns of the cows to keep them from impaling one another. The cows are scared, it is dark, they do not know what is going on, and no provisions are made to keep them alive. Downer cows (the ones who cannot stand after the trucking process, be it because of broken bones or lack of strength) are usually dragged out of the truck in inhumane ways, and placed into a pile where they die (Motavalli). Many companies don't do it humanely, because they lack the time, the patience, and the caring to do so. Downers are also routinely processed for human consumption (Motavalli). According to Motavalli, Farm Sanctuary petitioned the USDA in 1998 to end the practice of processing downer cows for humans, and the petition failed. What is worse than the trucking of the animals? It can only be topped by the packaging of animals. The animals are trucked to a slaughterhouse where they will be lined up, and systematically killed and cut up, but; it is not only the animals are in danger at a slaughterhouse but the workers, too. Sometimes an animal can regain consciousness through the processes and that can be dangerous to workers who could get kicked in the head (Schlosser). Sometimes animals are skinned alive (Motavalli). In the end, few choose to think about it because the consequences of your actions are overwhelming, and on average, a meat eater is responsible for the death of 2,400 animals in his or her lifetime (Motavalli).
Who are vegetarians and why? What impact does it have on the world? Believe it or not, vegetarianism isn't new; according to Motavalli, Pythagoras was one of the first recorded vegetarians, but in addition, Leonardo da Vinci was, as was Ben Franklin, and Albert Einstein. Those influential men of the time saw the benefits of being a vegetarian, even before they had reasons like todays. There is a world to feed, and environment to protect; though those men probably did it for the health reasons. Today, 82% of vegetarians are so because of health concerns, 75% because of ethics, the environment, and/or animal rights, 31% because of taste, and 26% because of economics (Motavalli). "PETA claims that 12 million Americans are vegetarian, and that 19,000 switch every week. This number is under debate; author Pamela Rice cites about 4.5 million, or 2.5% of the American population. While Rooper polls conducted in 1994, and 1997 cite that 1% of the American population is vegetarian, (2 to 3 million people) 1/3-1/2 of those vegan, with 5% never eating red meat (qtd. in Motavalli)." Though according to Motavalli, women are simply more likely to be vegetarians, and Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats. Which is interesting since it is assumed that Democrats would be more concerned about the environment and humanitarian issues than the way the average Republican woman is portrayed.
Globally, the hunger for meat has caused the consumption of fowl to nearly quadruple since 1961 from 4.2 billion to 15.7 billion, and in America beef and pork consumption has nearly tripled as well (Motavalli). America's influence on Asia has not gone completely unseen. America's push to westernize Asia has probably led to their overall meat consumption to double. On the other hand, maybe it is because more Asians can afford meat because of the increase of business they have there. In South American countries, America's influence has caused a third of the Amazon rain forest to be chopped down in order to make room for cattle ranchers (Landry). The story is the same in Costa Rica and other Central American countries. Locally, the story isn't much different. But instead of destroying rain forests, it is America's grasslands and water systems that are being destroyed. In Nebraska, bovine growth hormones from cattle lots have been getting into the water supply, and may be affecting the local fish. Female fish have been growing male parts, and the males have smaller testicles, and act like the female fish (Environmental Sci.). The EPA and the American Geological Team are scheduled to research this more some time soon.
One of the greatest debates at the moment is should humans even eat meat? "We are obviously not carnivores, but we are equally obviously not strict vegetarians." (John McArdle) Humans' stomachs produce hydrochloric acid, and the pancreas creates special enzymes; all to aid the breaking down of meats as well as veggies. It's fairly obvious that humans are omnivorous, meaning that we can eat both plants and animal. Humans were made to be able to eat almost anything, but that doesn't mean that indulging in an excess of meat especially when other humans are starving and dying, is a good thing. If humans were meant to be strict vegetarians, the stomach wouldn't have a generalized pH balance (Motavalli). Also, humans have low synthesis rates of fatty acid DHA and taunine, the body doesn't even make B12; these three things we must get from animal sources (Motavalli). It's true that traditionally humans would have to subsidize their diets with meat sources for normal body function, but until a process is formed by which the entire world can be fed, and another to keep the precious ecosystem alive, taking vitamins to meet the bodies deficiencies instead of eating meat would make more of an impact.
On the other hand, Cardiologist W.C. Roberts says "Humans aren't physiologically designed to eat meat." (qtd. in Motavalli). He also states how humans are physically more like herbivores than carnivores. Humans are more like herbivores in that swallowing food whole isn't something that most of people do, since it is specifically a carnivore trait. It wasn't until humans developed arrowheads, hatchets, and other ways of catching animals that meat started to be consumed (Motavalli), considering that humans are way too slow to catch even rabbits.
What about milk and other dairy products? "Dairy foods are definitely not a natural part of our diet." (Author Virginia Messina as qtd. in Motavalli) Americans might find it interesting to know that three out of ten adults are lactose intolerant (Motavalli). And that a Harvard study of 75,000 nurses showed "no evidence that those who drank milk enjoyed less broken bones than those who didn't drink milk (qtd. In Motavalli)." In fact, in spite of all the advertising that the California Milk Processor Board, the company that runs the "Got Milk?" ads, milk is still not the best source of calcium for human consumption. According to Motavalli, cow's milk has been linked to iron-deficiency anemia, cramps, diarrhea, and many forms of allergies. And that milk might also be so high in protein that it actually strips bones of what calcium they do have. Isn't it interesting that the "Got Milk?" commercials are being sponsored by a coalition that formed when the number of dairy drinking people in California dropped (http://www.gotmilk.com)? The coalition made up of dairy farmers across California formed these advertisements to encourage people to drink more milk to boost sales, not because it is healthy.
As a solution to the problem of the millions of people worldwide who suffer needlessly from hunger, I propose that Americans make a conscience effort to control what they eat, and think about who it effects. In American grocery stores things are packaged so that the item is removed from its source. When asking typical American child about where food comes from, the answer would probably be something like "from the grocery store, of course." It is a phenomenon that isn't limited to children, of course adults know where the food comes from; but in the grand American tradition, there is little thought that is attributed to what is being bought and eaten. If thought was put into what it is that is being eaten, where it comes from and who it effects; maybe then people would be more willing to effect others in a kind way, and buy something else.
The solution to the problem in the rain forest is something many scientists have thought about for years. Telling the natives to stop cutting down the trees is useless. The people there are simply trying to provide for their families by farming. Unfortunately the land is poor quality and erodes quickly, forcing the people to chop down more trees, to clear-cut more land. It's and endless cycle that seems almost hopeless. Fortunately there are non-profit organizations in Brazil that are working to help families by providing them with valuable hardwood trees to grow and sell, by providing them with seeds for native plants to plant in between the trees in the rain forest itself to provide for their families, and to provide them with cages so that they can capture and breed food for themselves (Landry). It's a small glimmer of hope, but if enough families can be encouraged to provide for themselves in this way, in a few years, a noticeable about of rain forest may be saved. Also, there are scientists who are working on studying the rain forest in case it does ever disappear; they do so in the hopes that if the worst happens and the rain forest does disappear, then they, with the help of modern technology might be able to recreate the rain forests like they did the Florida wetlands (Landry).
In conclusion, even though humans are omnivores and can eat practically anything, doesn't mean that reasonability for the ecosystem and its ability to support the people groups around the world isn't our responsibility. If Americans in particular ate with their brains and not their taste buds, we might be able to make the standard of living in foreign countries a little bit better not only for the people, but for the animals in question. How can we as one of the wealthiest nations under the sun turn our backs on entire countries who are starving to make our steak? Next time you eat a hamburger will you think about where it came from?
Suffer the Animals: Environmental Action -- May/June. Audette et al.
Saving the Rain Forest -- CQ Researcher. Sept. 20, 1991. Cooper.
Soybean of Happiness -- Whole Earth Review. Summer 1999. Imhoff, Warshall.
Saving the Rain Forest: A Patch of Hope -- St. Petersburg Times. Feb. 27, 1994. Landry.
Taking the Pulse of the Planet -- Audubon. Nov./Dec. 1999. McKibben.
The Case Against Meat -- E Magazine. Jan./Feb. 2002. Motavalli.
Do Cattle Growth Hormones Pose an Environmental Risk? -- Environmental Science and Technology. April, 2002. Renner.
Fast Food Nation. (394.10973) Eric Schlosser.
One last thing to add. People have brought it to my attention that Ben Franklin wasn't always a vegetarian. This may or may not be the case. I am not going to actually change my write up, because I wrote this paper for English Class, and the research I found said that he was. It has already been written, but I believe it is worth mentioning. Thanks.