In addition to being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October is also Vegetarian Awareness Month. As a Resident Advisor (RA), one of the things we get to do is plan programs for our residents. One of my program ideas for October was to hold a Vegetarian Challenge, where we refrained from eating meat for an entire week to coincide with World Vegetarian Day on October 1. As an environmental science major, I thought the challenge would provide insights to my fellow students on the amount of meat they consume every week and the environmental and health benefits that come along with eating less meat.
There are a number of side effects associated with the commercial meat industry. On a global scale, livestock have been estimated to be the source of approximately 9% of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, 37% of methane emissions and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions. That’s a big chunk of greenhouse gas emissions. One of the things I find most interesting is just how much of the world’s meat America consumes…and it’s a little crazy.
Check out this website: http://chartsbin.com/view/bhy and not how it illustrates America’s meal consumption. Obviously, we aren’t the only offenders, but we are a major one and the one with the largest population.
On an individual basis, studies have shown that vegetarians are less likely to develop a number of conditions such as heart disease, certain types of cancers like colorectal, ovarian, and breast cancers, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. That’s if you do it right and eat healthy. A normal, healthy vegetarian diet is high in fiber and low in fat, unless you keep chowing down on those fried Oreos (I know – they’re amazing).
Looking at the chart, four of the top five meat-consuming nations (Luxembourg, United States, Australia and New Zealand) are in the list of the top 10 most obese nations in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The United States has an obesity rate of 33.8%. That means that one in three adult Americans is clinically obese. And that’s just the adult population. In children ranged from age 5 to age 17, 35.9% of girls and 35.0% of boys are overweight or obese. The health concerns behind obesity are very serious. In the United States, obesity is estimated to be responsible for 5-10% of total health expenditure. People who are severely obese die, on average, 8-10 years sooner than their non-obese counterparts. Every additional 33 pounds increases the risk of early death by as much as 30%.
So in October, we did the Vegetarian Challenge and surprisingly enough, it was nowhere near as hard as I imagined it would be. Did I look at that buffalo chicken wrap and say, “Wow, I can’t wait until this is over so I can eat that again?” Absolutely. But I’m not telling you that you should give up meat entirely. You can still have that buffalo chicken wrap. My point was to make people think about cutting down on something that many of them perhaps eat too much of. Vegetarianism, or flexitarianism (sticking mostly to a vegetarian diet, but also occasionally eating meat), can be extremely beneficial for your personal health.
For more information on the Vegetarian Challenge and for additional resources on vegetarian diets, please visit www.facebook.com/VegetarianChallenge.
All you carnivores out there, do you think you could go a week without meat?
Brown University Health Education. “Being a Vegetarian.” http://brown.edu/Student_Services/Health_Services/Health_Education/nutrition_&_ eating_concerns/being_a_vegetarian.php
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “Obesity Update 2012”. http://www.oecd.org/health/49716427.pdf
Steinfeld, H. et al. 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Livestock, Environment and Development, FAO, Rome. 391 pp.