Vegetarianism is the limitation of ones diet to only vegetables. Vegetarianism has been around for centuries, but recently we have seen the eruption of a more militant vegetarianism that is inspired by the animal "rights" movement. Today, vegetarian activists are throwing pies at Ronald McDonald and the Pork Queen, scrawling "meat is murder" in prominent locations, committing terrorist acts of arson, and waging media campaigns equating meat consumption with cannibalism.

Vegetarians are, on the average, far healthier than those who consume the typical Western diet, and enjoy a lower incidence of many chronic diseases. However, it has not been proven that one must eliminate meat from one\'s diet in order to be healthy. It has been aptly demonstrated that the typical Western diet contains too much fat. Eliminating meat from the diet is one way to reduce fat, but it is not the only way. Vegetarian diets have also been shown to increase the risk for nutrient deficiencies. Children are particularly vulnerable and can lead to growth problems. Vegetarian children often fail to grow as well as their omnivorous counterparts despite protein intakes.

Ecological arguments against omnivorous and carnivorous eating are little more than an attempt by those from the less popular animal "rights" movement to ride the coattails of the more popular environmental movement. In some cases, warnings of impending environmental cataclysm are used to advance an ethical agenda. However, arguments to the effect that eating meat is "destroying the planet" overlook that the planet has not yet been destroyed despite millions of years of omnivorous and carnivorous eating by millions of individuals from a multitude of species. The Second Law of Thermodynamics dictates that some energy will be inevitably lost as one moves up the food web. Therefore, arguments about how it takes X pounds of plant protein to generate Y pounds of meat have a sound theoretical basis. However, these arguments are often overstated. These arguments falsely assume that pork chops and steak are the only products of animal agriculture. They falsely presume that a pound of animal foodstuffs is nutritionally and energetically equivalent to a pound of plant foodstuffs. These arguments also ignore the energy content and opportunity cost of replacing animal by-products, which is considerable. Even the animal\'s excrement is a valuable resource. Certain animal products, such as fetal calf serum, collagen and laminin are crucial for medical research using cell cultures, and have no available alternatives. If certain practices associated with animal agriculture are found to be ecologically unsound, it does not merit a general opposition to eating meat. Though not practical for everyone, hunting and fishing bypass any potential ecological destruction associated with plant or animal agriculture. They are thus two of the most ecologically sound ways to obtain one\'s sustenance. Those who would oppose even limited exploitation of these alternatives have ethical concerns masquerading as environmental concerns. The most disingenuous ecological ploy made by "ethical" vegetarians is the "...we could feed X starving people with Y percent of the resources devoted to animal agriculture..." argument. First, it falsely implies that humans are starving because of insufficient production capacity. World hunger is a result of deficient distribution of food, not deficient capacity for production of food. Our capacity to produce grain is so vast that we actually pay farmers not to produce. Secondly, if the argument were valid, the resultant increase in human population would exacerbate rather than remedy ecological concerns regarding human population.

Though vegetarianism does offer clear health benefits, one need not become vegetarian in order to have a healthy diet. Diet is only one important aspect of health. The avoidance of harmful habits such as smoking is as important, if not more so. Killing less sentient beings for sustenance is not ethically superior when one can, through fruitarianism, minimize the intentional killing of all macroscopic beings.

22 July, 1998

English 1A