My name is Lily Schaefer, and I am a college student at Ohio University, as well as an intern with Simply Living. I am working on this blog to further my knowledge and share my experience with eating as a vegetarian! If you have questions, or would like to chat, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In today’s society, vegetarianism is a loaded term; it seems to be picking up traction, but is also still shrouded in controversy and confusion. I personally have been a vegetarian for a little over a year now. Currently, as I am writing this, I am picking out the chicken from my pre-packaged caesar salad I got for free from my place of work. I only mention this because I am a busy person, on a college student budget, which makes sticking to my vegetarian diet a bit tricky at times. Vegetarianism can seem like a complicated endeavor, but it doesn’t need to be. It all boils down to a daily decision.
In the spring of 2022, I was taking a class dedicated to learning about urban green infrastructure. One form of green infrastructure we spent some time on was urban agriculture- ways to cultivate fresh foods and produce in cities to decrease the carbon footprint of our foods, to improve local economies, to bring fresh and healthy produce to food deserts, and make our cities more green. While on a tangent about our food systems in America, my professor explained that for all of the feed (grains, oats, corn, seeds) and water it takes to sustain a cow through its life until slaughter, only one eighth of that amount is converted into consumable meat and dairy products. The same goes for pigs, but at about one sixth, and poultry at about one fourth. I have since come to know that this is known as feed conversion: the ratio of edible animal meat and other products produced per unit of food a farmed animal is fed (Safran Foer, 2018).
I started to wonder why these ratios were significant. It is clearly an inefficient system, from the perspective of resource use. The significance occurs where such large amounts of sustenance are being put. There are starving populations and water-insecure communities all across the globe. Is it fair to be wasting such large amounts of grains and water on inefficient animals for the purpose of meat, when we could be rerouting the grains and water to people who need it more urgently? This is what opened my eyes to the bigger picture; the horrors of the factory farms, the environmentally and socially damaging meat-eating culture, and the benefits of a plant-based diet. This information is what inspired me to become vegetarian and to learn more, which is exactly what I continue to do every single day.
When I tell people I am vegetarian, it is usually received one of two ways: by a respectful, curious variety of questions; or by an air of distaste, condescension, and ignorance, usually followed by the person’s belief that my choice in not eating meat has a miniscule impact on the world. Through my research and writing, I hope to clarify confusions and dissolve the harmful controversy surrounding vegetarianism. I do not hope to persuade anyone to become vegetarian for my reasons, but to give others resources and knowledge in order for them to make their own informed decisions. I would like to point out that it is the factory farming industry specifically that I, and many others, are boycotting, not necessarily meat in its entirety. There are sustainable and equitable ways to buy and eat meat, which I support, that do not contribute to factory farming. I will get to those in another post!
Just like any sustainability issue, vegetarianism and its antithesis, the meat-eating industry, has environmental, economic, and social impacts and influences. With our current system of factory farming in place, the environmental impacts are extensive. Firstly, our global population is growing at an alarming rate. With a growing population comes a greater demand for food, including meat. In order to provide more meat, there must be more animals, and to sustain more animals, there must be more pasture land, as well as cropland and water usage to grow feed for the animals. Increasingly, our forests, rich in biodiversity and life, are being destroyed for the creation of farmland. Not only does this decrease the world’s plant and animal biodiversity, but it also damages indigenous peoples’ livelihoods, decreases water supply to people and the land, and increases the region’s vulnerability to climate change impacts. Forests are huge carbon sinks, meaning they help store vast amounts of carbon. When the forests are cleared, that carbon gets released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, contributing to global warming, and decreases the planet’s ability to pull existent carbon dioxide out of the air and into the plants. Dense forests provide many more imperative services to people and the land, and the stability and resilience of the region is lost when those forests are lost for the purpose of farming.
Secondly, the actual farming practices can also be ecologically damaging, especially by directly affecting climate change. Overall, animal agriculture is the single greatest cause of and contributor to climate change. According to Jonathan Safran Foer in his book Eating Animals, animal agriculture contributes 40% more to global warming than all transportation on the planet combined. To get a little more specific, animal agriculture contributes 37 percent of anthropogenic (meaning produced by human activity) methane, and 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, both of which are greenhouse gasses that are much more potent than carbon dioxide. To go even more direct, Safran Foer points out that an omnivore diet contributes seven times more greenhouse gasses than a vegan diet (Safran Foer, 2018). In other words, just by eating meat and other animal products, a person contributes seven times more greenhouse gasses than that person would if they chose not to. Further, farm animals generate massive amounts of waste, and it is much more toxic than the solid municipal waste generated by humans. There is no regulated infrastructure or procedure for dealing with farm animal waste, and it is often mishandled. Leaked farm animal wastes contaminates local water sources, as well as contributes to air pollution with a large number of very toxic chemicals. The land, water, and air pollution is very serious, and goes unregulated and unprosecuted much too often. By choosing to eat factory-farmed meat, we are contributing to this industry’s ability to pollute our planet and extensively influence climate change.
Environmental degradation is only one harmful aspect of factory farming. Later, I will discuss in further detail the practices that occur on factory farms, the influence the factory-farming industry has on society, some of the social and economic impacts of factory farming, and ways to continue to eat a healthy affordable diet without factory-farmed meats. Stay tuned.
I would also like to share my journey of eating vegetarian as a college student. Grocery shopping can be a struggle for many, myself included. For myself, it is a two-fold issue. Firstly, I don’t have my own car. I must either walk a couple of miles along the Hocking River to get to Kroger or Walmart, which is doable, but definitely a hassle to carry bags of groceries home, or wait to align my schedule with those of my roommates in order to tag along with them. Secondly, healthy grocery shopping can be expensive! Living in my college apartment, this is my first year budgeting with bills, rent, grocery shopping, and entertainment, all on the money I earn from my part time job. It is a lot! I tend to shop at Walmart because it is cheaper, and buy things to make meals that will last me a couple of weeks.
For example, lately I have been really into stir fry, and experimenting with tofu. I have bought extra firm tofu that I press and season, and then store the extra in the freezer until I am ready to cook it again. I sautee the tofu, along with a mixture of fresh vegetables, such as zucchini, bell peppers, water chestnuts, mushrooms, etc. Any mixture of vegetables you like would make a good stir fry- I am looking to try adding eggplant to mine next time. Along with the tofu and veggies, I make a pot of 5-minute white rice, and add teriyaki sauce for additional flavor – any sauce would work, even no sauce! I cook extra of everything, and I end up getting five to six meals out of it. For me, it is a fun, easy, and affordable meal to cook.