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Arguments for Vegetarianism

The Basic Argument

1) Eating meat is not at all required for health. There have never been any bulletins or recommendations saying that "we need to eat more meat (for health)". Not from the medical community (beholden to the pharmaceutical industry), not from health agencies (indebted to special interest groups). Not even the powerful meat industry has ever dared make such an outrageous claim. In fact, the converse is true: every recommendation you have ever seen always stresses that we need to eat less meat and more fruits and vegetables for our health.

2) There is no nutrient in meat that cannot be found in a vegetarian diet. No one can deny this.

3) There is no disease where eating meat is required for the treatment or cure of the disease.

4) Therefore, eating meat is absolutely unnecessary.

5) Eating meat causes death to other animals, obviously. And, despite attempts to make slaughter "humane", whether it be "kosher", "halal" or otherwise, it quite probably, or even certainly, causes stress and pain as well.

6) Therefore, eating meat is immoral and unethical. And abhorrently selfish, since the person who eats meat does so only for the hedonistic and temporary satisfaction of his taste buds. Especially when there are so many vegetarian and tasteful alternatives (from meatless and healthful soy products to traditional Indian dishes).

7) There is more than enough cruelty in the world as it is; no sane person can deny this. There is no need to add to the world's cruelty, unnecessarily.

The Wastefulness of a Meat-Centered Diet

Foundation of this Argument

No one can deny that the resources required for a meat-centered diet far outweigh the resources needed for a vegetarian diet. It takes over 17 pounds of grain to produce a single pound of meat.

How is this calculated?
Beef cattle, weighing in at around 900 pounds as an adult, require around 80 pounds of food each day[1], 18 pounds of which is grain[2] (most beef cattle in the U.S. are grain-fed[3]). Beef cattle live for only three to six years before being slaughtered[4]. Calculating only a three-year lifespan, that means the cow would have consumed 18 pounds of grain per day x 365 days per year x 3 years = 19,710 pound of grain during its life. But, of course, the animal is not born full grown, so we will cut this number in half to 9,855 pounds of grain consumed in its lifetime. Typically 62% of the weight of the animal ends up as meat[5]. So for our 900 pound example, we would have around 558 pounds of meat. 9,855 pounds of grain divided by 558 pounds of meat is 17.6 pounds of grain for each pound of meat.

This is, obviously, far less efficient than supplying grains directly to people to eat.

The massive "Corn Belt" of the United States, stretching from North Dakota to Ohio, grows corn and soybeans, not for human consumption, but for animal feed.

The wastefulness of producing meat does not end just with feeding the animals. Massive amounts of fresh water, a precious and dwindling commodity, are required for meat production. Although 12 gallons of water are required for a 900 pound animal per day[6], this figure is paltry considering the amound of water required to irrigate the grains and silage used to feed the animals. The mighty Colorado River no longer reaches the ocean, because it is used for irrigation (much of it for alfalfa and grains)[7].

And then there is the matter of the fossil fuels required to support the production of the meat. Since it takes 17 times more grain to produce meat, it takes 17 times more fossil fuels to grow that grain. But it does not stop there: there is the transportation and storage of the grain, transportation of the animals, production, refridgeration and transportation of the meat, and so on. In the end, it takes 26 times the fossil fuels to support a meat-centered diet than a vegetarian diet. A United Nations report in 2007 states that 18% of global warming emissions come from raising animals for food[8]. Compare this to only 13% of emissions coming from all of the cars, trucks, trains, boats and airplanes in the world, combined.

Results of Wastefulness

Less Resources for and Exploding Population

A vegetarian diet is the most efficient diet for feeding people in the least amount of space. That is why the Biosphere 2 experiments utilized a vegetarian diet exclusively.

Demand for Fossil Fuels

Demand for fossil fuels raises the prices at the gas pump as well as other commodities. Demand for fossil fuels results in wars to protect the precious supplies. Demand for fossil fuels results in increased drilling in parts of the world where an inevitable spill would be disasterous. Demand for fossil fuels increases greenhouse gasses and global warming.

Loss of Natural Habitat

Vast quantities of land are being used to supply food for the meat industry. Most of this land could be reverted back into natural habitat.

Pesticides, Herbicides and Chemical Fertilizer

Raising cattle and the food to feed the cattle is not a bucolic, pastoral scene, in harmony with nature. Agribusiness is the #1 pollutor, with chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers being used, with runoff into our aquifers and waterways. Believe it or not, it is usually healthier to live next to a factory than next to a farm that uses these methods.

We cannot afford to continue on a meat-centered diet.

The Wastefulness of a Meat-Centered Diet, part 2

Source: Environment/Planet, from Delaware Action for Animals

Traditional farming practices have increasingly given way to factory farms which are taking a tremendous toll on the environment. There are now 20 billion livestock on earth, more than triple the number of human beings.

Misuse of Land

85% of all U.S. agricultural land is used in the production of animal food, which in turn is linked with deforestation, destruction of wildlife species, loss of soil productivity through mineral depletion and erosion, water pollution and depletion, overgrazing and desertification.


It takes roughly 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef. 80% of U.S. grain and over 70% of soy is fed to livestock. If people switched to a plant-based or vegetarian/vegan diet, enough land would be freed up to feed 1,400,000,000 of the world’s hungry people.

Vanishing Rainforests

Loss of rainforests in Southern Mexico and Central America have been caused chiefly by the importation of rainforest beef into the United States. Members of 20 to 30 different plant species, 100 different plant species, 100 different insect species, and dozens of bird, mammal, and reptile species have been destroyed in the production of each fast food hamburger made from rainforest beef.

Topsoil Erosion

More than half of the topsoil in the Western United States has been lost since cattle began overtaking the Western plains 140 years ago. Topsoil is the most precious commodity a farmer has. It takes nature anywhere between one hundred and eight hundred years to produce an inch of topsoil.

Water Depletion

2,500 gallons of water are required to produce 1 pound of beef. 5,214 gallons are required to produce a pound of beef in California. This is because of the huge amounts of grains grown to feed cattle and the water used to grow those grains. The Ogallala aquifer is the largest body of fresh water on earth and it is being depleted by farmers at an alarming rate. More water is withdrawn from the Ogallala aquifer every year for beef production than is used to grow all the fruits and vegetables in the entire country. Wells throughout the nation are drying up. The same pattern is happening all over the world.

Water and Air Pollution

The waste from today’s feedlot operations are not being returned to the soil for rebuilding topsoil, but end up in our groundwater, rivers, streams, and oceans. Pfiesteria is just one of the illnesses caused by animal waste in our waterway. Massive amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used causing water and air pollution.

Global Warming

The planet is experiencing global warming due to “greenhouse gases” caused largely by animal agriculture. Meat production causes an increase in carbon dioxide and methane gas which is released into the atmosphere. Desertification Livestock grazing has turned 1/3 of the earth’s land to desert. As a result, floods are becoming a more common occurrence throughout the world.

The Wastefulness of a Meat-Centered Diet, part 3

Virtual Water and the Depletion of Fresh Water

"Virtual water (also known as embedded water, embodied water, or hidden water) refers, in the context of trade, to the water used in the production of a good or service. For instance, it takes 1,300 cubic meters of water on average to produce one metric tonne of wheat. The precise volume can be more or less depending on climatic conditions and agricultural practice." — "Water Footprints of Nations: Water Use by People As A Function of Their Consumption Pattern", A. Y. Hoekstra and A. K. Chapagain.

Fresh water is a precious necessity. Although 71.11% of the Earth's surface is covered by water, only 1% is usable by humans. Source: USGS Water Science School

With global warming, a growing world population, worldwide droughts and the concomitant food and water shortages, wasting fresh water is inexcusable. A meat-centered diet is notoriously wasteful of water.

Here are some facts from , comparing the amount of water required (in cubic meters) to produce a ton of the selected products:
  • Rice: 1,275 cubic meters
  • Wheat: 849 cubic meters
  • Soybeans: 1,869 cubic meters
  • Barley: 702 cubic meters
  • Beef: 13,193 cubic meters
  • Pork: 3,946 cubic meters
  • Goat meat: 3,082 cubic meters
  • Sheep meat: 5,977 cubic meters
  • Chicken meat: 2,389 cubic meters
  • Eggs: 1,510 cubic meters
  • Milk: 695 cubic meters
  • Leather: 14,190 cubic meters
Source: Water Footprint of Nations, from UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education

See for more information.

How to Win an Argument with a Meat Eater

This is from an article published over 20 years ago, in The New York Times. As such, much of the non-percentile information contained herein will be "dated".

The Hunger Argument

  1. Number of people worldwide who will die as a result of malnutrition this year: 20,000,000
  2. Number of people who could be adequately fed using land freed if Americans reduced their intake of meat by 10%: 100,000,000
  3. Percentage of corn grown in the U.S. eaten by people: 20%
  4. Percentage of corn grown in the U.S. eaten by livestock: 80%
  5. Percentage of oats grown in the U.S. eaten by livestock: 95%
  6. Percentage of protein wasted by cycling grain through livestock: 90%
  7. How frequently a child dies as a result of malnutrition: every 2.3 seconds
  8. Pounds of potatoes that can be grown on an acre: 40,000
  9. Pounds of beef produced on an acre: 250
  10. Percentage of U.S. farmland devoted to beef production: 56
  11. Pounds of grain and soybeans needed to produce a pound of edible flesh from feedlot beef: 16

The Environmental Argument

  1. Cause of global warming: greenhouse effect
  2. Primary cause of greenhouse effect: carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels
  3. Fossil fuels needed to produce meat-centered diet vs. a meat-free diet: 3 times more
  4. Percentage of U.S. topsoil lost to date: 75%
  5. Percentage of U.S. topsoil loss directly related to livestock raising: 85%
  6. Number of acres of U.S. forest cleared for cropland to produce meat-centered diet: 260,000,000
  7. Amount of meat imported to U.S. annually from Central and South America: 300,000,000 pounds
  8. Percentage of Central American children under the age of five who are undernourished: 75%
  9. Area of tropical rainforest consumed in every quarter-pound of rainforest beef: 55 square feet
  10. Current rate of species extinction due to destruction of tropical rainforests for meat grazing and other uses: 1,000 per year

The Cancer Argument

  1. Increased risk of breast cancer for women who eat meat daily compared to less than once a week: 3.8 times
  2. For women who eat eggs daily compared to once a week: 2.8 times
  3. Increased risk of fatal ovarian cancer for women who eat eggs 3 or more times a week vs. less than once a week: 3 times
  4. Increased risk of fatal prostate cancer for men who consume meat, cheese, eggs and milk daily vs. sparingly or not at all: 3.6 times.

The Cholesterol Argument

  1. Number of U.S. medical schools: 125
  2. Number requiring a course in nutrition: 30
  3. Nutrition training received by average U.S. physician during four years in medical school: 2.5 hours
  4. Most common cause of death in the U.S.: heart attack
  5. How frequently a heart attack kills in the U.S.: every 45 seconds
  6. Average U.S. man's risk of death from heart attack: 50%
  7. Risk of average U.S. man who eats no meat: 15%
  8. Risk of average U.S. man who eats no meat, dairy or eggs: 4%
  9. Amount you reduce risk of heart attack if you reduce consumption of meat, dairy and eggs by 10 percent: 9%
  10. Amount you reduce risk of heart attack if you reduce consumption by 50 percent: 45%
  11. Amount you reduce risk if you eliminate meat, dairy and eggs from your diet: 90%
  12. Average cholesterol level of people eating meat-centered-diet: 210 mg/dl
  13. Chance of dying from heart disease if you are male and your blood cholesterol level is 210 mg/dl: greater than 50%

The Natural Resources Argument

  1. Uses of more than half of all water used for all purposes in the U.S.: livestock production
  2. Amount of water used in production of the average cow: sufficient to float a U.S. Navy Destroyer
  3. Gallons of water needed to produce a pound of wheat: 25
  4. Gallons of water needed to produce a pound of California beef: 5,000
  5. Years the world's known oil reserves would last if every human ate a meat-centered diet: 13
  6. Years they would last if human beings no longer ate meat: 260
  7. Calories of fossil fuel expended to get 1 calorie of protein from beef: 78
  8. To get 1 calorie of protein from soybeans: 2
  9. Percentage of all raw materials (base products of farming, forestry and mining, including fossil fuels) consumed by U.S. that is devoted to the production of livestock: 33%
  10. Percentage of all raw materials consumed by the U.S. needed to produce a complete vegetarian diet: 2%

The Antibiotic Argument

  1. Percentage of U.S. antibiotics fed to livestock: 55%
  2. Percentage of staphylococci infections resistant to penicillin in 1960: 13%
  3. Percentage resistant in 1988: 91%
  4. Response of European Economic Community to routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock: ban
  5. Response of U.S. meat and pharmaceutical industries to routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock: full and complete support

The Pesticide Argument

  1. Common misconception: U.S. Department of Agriculture protects our health through meat inspection
  2. Reality: fewer than 1 out of every 250,000 slaughtered animals is tested for toxic chemical residues
  3. Percentage of U.S. mother's milk containing significant levels of DDT: 99%
  4. Percentage of U.S. vegetarian mother's milk containing significant levels of DDT: 8%
  5. Contamination of breast milk, due to chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides in animal products, found in meat-eating mothers vs. non-meat eating mothers: 35 times higher
  6. Amount of Dieldrin ingested by the average breast-fed American infant: 9 times the permissible level

The Ethical Argument

  1. Number of animals killed for meat per hour in the U.S.: 660,000
  2. Occupation with highest turnover rate in U.S.: slaughterhouse worker
  3. Occupation with highest rate of on-the-job-injury in U.S.: slaughterhouse worker

The Survival Argument

  1. Athlete to win Ironman Triathlon more than twice: Dave Scott (6 time winner)
  2. Food choice of Dave Scott: Vegetarian
  3. Largest meat eater that ever lived: Tyrannosaurus Rex (Where is he today?)

Anti-Hunting Argument

Hunters are morally superior to the flesh-eaters who do not hunt. After all, the flesh-eating non-hunters rely on their meat being neatly packaged, with no hint of the cruelty involved. Meat-eaters who criticize hunters are hypocrites.

With the exception of "cage hunted animals", the animals hunted at least know the joy of living truly free (at least, for a while). This is not the case with slaughterhouse animals. Although certainly callous, the hunter witnesses the pain of the animals he kills, not so with the supermarket consumer, who carefully insulates himself from the agony of the animal's struggle to simply live and enjoy life.

All of this being said, even the so-called "noble" hunter falls far short of those who embrace ahimsa (compassion), and who eschew unnecessary cruelty and pain. My anti-hunting argument begins:

The primary argument of hunters (at least, the primary argument of hunters who try to portray themselves as the "true friends of nature") is this:

"Our role fills the void of the natural predators, who have disappeared. We thin the herd, so that only the fittest survive."

While this sounds noble, it is rife with philosophical fallacies (i.e., lapses in logic).

First, if they are honestly concerned with the disappearance of the predators, perhaps they should work towards ceasing the hunting of these predators!

Second, and more important, they do not truly supplant the natural predators.

Natural predators look for the "easy kill". They target the young, the weak, the distressed and the diseased. Those are easy kills. They do not target the strong, who easily escape them. These strong individuals survive and reproduce. Because only the strong survive to reproduce, the genes of these individuals are passed on to their descendants, strengthening the gene pool.

But human predators (namely, "hunters") do not look for the "easy kill". They look for the "trophy kill". They only want the buck with the largest antler spread. This philosophy weakens the gene pool, because the healthiest individuals are "culled". The weaker individuals remain to procreate.

Having shown that the argument of the "noble", "nature-loving" hunter to be weak and false; if they persist, the question is begged: "So what is the real reason you hunt?"

—Jim Blanston

See also Why Do People Hunt? —Webmaster's note
Check out our counter-arguments to challenges and criticisms of vegetarianism on our Challenges page.


1 How Much Feed Will My Cow Eat - Frequently Asked Questions, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development
2 Ibid.
3 Cattle feeding, Wikipedia
4 Cattle, Wikipedia
5 Did the Locker Plant Steal Some of My Meat?, South Dakota State University
6 Water Requirements of Livestock, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture
7 Ag. Water Quality- Frequently Asked Questions, University of California Cooperative Extension
8 Livestock's Long Shadow, Food And Agriculture Organization Of The United Nations, 2007

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