International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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37th IVU World Vegetarian Congress
Goa, India, September 10-16, 2006
Healthy Lifestyle - Vegetarian Way!

Vegetarians are the best environmentalists
Whether they know it or not

By Jayant Patel

Friends, first of all let me define what I mean by 'environment'. Today we have many so-called environmentalists who campaign in very limited fields and totally ignore areas which could, if addressed, lead to a better world for all, I mean for ALL, all living things. Sometimes these environmentalists in effect are a hindrance rather then help in achieving a better world. Because they achieve prominent positions politicians and media only give voice to what they have to say and that defines what goes as 'an environmental issue'. These people refuse to make the necessary sacrifices for reasons of tastes or upbringing that they manufacture false reasoning and scenarios to hide their prejudices. Sometimes I wonder who are our real enemies - so called friends or environment polluters.

Let me come back to say what I mean by 'environment'. I mean total circumstances, everything around us which can affect the way feel. Consider the following broad categories of different types of environments:

  • Immediate physical - protection from heat, cold, rain etc.
  • Natural - plants, trees, rivers, mountains, forests, jungles, other species etc.
  • Safe and Secure - Security of food, water and clean air supply and freedom from physical attacks and exploitation
  • Compassionate and caring - we are looked after by others when needed

In modern complex world we can categorize all our real needs under one or more of the above headings. Our security will largely depend on stable social and political environment. We will feel more secure amongst more compassionate people. So to capture this aspect I would like to introduce the concept of 'circle of compassion'. Ask yourselves how far your circle of compassion extends to. Is it within yourself or does it cover your family, caste, village, area, nationality, country, region, pets, co-religionists? If you are a member of a gang then your circle of compassion would be limited to members of that gang and outside that circle it would be 'a free for all' - others would be legitimate targets for you to exploit. And it depends who is drawing this 'circle of compassion' me, you, member of another species. A very compassionate society for me might not be the same for a cow or dog. I believe the most compassionate society would be the one where all living beings were allowed to live their lives fully. So my definition of 'environment' takes into account mental, physical and social needs. Some of you may even add spiritual needs.

So look at these different areas.

We have a need for secure supply of our basic needs which keep us alive that is air, water and food. What we see here, droughts, desertification of land, poor distribution. Wars, protectionism and limited field of compassion mean people are allowed to be starved to death - look at what is happening in Sub-Saharan Africa. Vegetarians by nature tend to have much wider circle of compassion and if, their life style were to be adopted by most, then we would not end up fighting each other over the scarce resources of this earth, instead we would try to share what we have. If we didn't waste food by eating more than the need of our body and throwing away or storing away surpluses for economic reasons then there would be enough to feed all in the world.

Now look at the physical things around us. We would prefer to live in a pleasant natural environment. A natural environment full of green vegetation, trees, rivers, lakes and mountains is what most people would like to live in. And you can see these things are gradually disappearing at an increasingly rapid and alarming rate. There may come a point from which it will be impossible to turn around the situation. The Brazilian rainforest the main absorber of carbon dioxide and producer of oxygen is being chopped down at a rate of one Belgium a year. With the destruction of forests the natural habitats of other species - insects, birds and animals- are also destroyed. Once the eco-systems are destroyed then it becomes very difficult to regenerate the forests with rich variety of flora and fauna. The clearances are turned into prairies for growing Soya beans which are exported to the west where they are used as animal feed. We have some friends here from Brazil who are trying to prevent this exploitation of the, let me say world's natural resource. (Can people from Brazil, please, stand up. Give them a big hand and say thank you for their efforts).

Now I want to deal with the core message of my talk and that is 'meat is a hindrance to leaving this earth in a good state for the future generations of living beings.

All the energy we need is provided by Sun and our Mother Earth. Plants and trees convert these into food which we can easily digest and meet all the bodily requirements. Now sun rays are plentiful but land is limited and so is water supply. So it is incumbent upon each of us to make sure these are used sparingly and efficiently. The most inefficient, not to mention cruel, way of meeting body's requirements is through consumption of meat. Now many will ask for proof and statistics. Many stats are available on this issue but I would like to appeal to common sense and reason. Just simply look at the processes by which meat is produced and you will have no need for statistics. Let's look at it. First of all we need some land, and then we need seeds and water. With plenty of sun rays the crops grow. We simply harvest these and use as food. We also need land to grow trees and plants which provide fruits and herbs etc. So in a nutshell, pardon the pun,


Now to produce meat we need more land for animals to graze. We also have to feed them the cereals grown as shown above. Animals have to be supplied with water. So how does the equation look for meat?


Now you have to ask yourselves isn't this sheer waste of earth's resources? You don't require statistics to see the obvious. A child can see that plant based food is most efficient. If you want statistics for meat eating friends and relatives I will give you some.

Let's look at our daily requirement for energy in terms of calories and protein. Assume calorie requirement of 2400 Kcal each day for a reasonable active life style. Experts say 10% of this should come from protein. 1g of protein generates 4 Kcal. So we need 60g of protein each day. Now let's see what we can get from meat and wheat.

Food type Total Kcal/100g* Protein (g)* Kcal from protein
Beef 310 22.5 90(29% from protein)
Wheat(flour wholemeal) 310 12.7 51(16% from protein)

* Source: Collins Gem's Calorie Counter (averaged for raw meat)

So you can see that about 800g of either beef or wheat should be sufficient to meet our daily requirements for energy and protein. In fact excess protein consumption can cause a variety of problems including bone mineral loss, kidney damage and dehydration. The American Dietetic Association says that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

I am sure there are many other speakers here at the Congress who will go through the nutritional benefits of a plant based diet but I want to focus on the environmental impact of a meat based diet. You might have come across the following frequently quoted statistics. Let me quote from Ahimsa, the Newsletter of Young Indian Vegetarians based in UK.

"That it takes 900 liters of water to produce 1Kg of wheat compared with 100,000 liters to produce 1Kg of beef"

So what have we gained by meeting our daily requirement through meat? Nothing whatsoever. In fact the result is we have wasted 99,100 liters of precious water resource.

Here are some telling quotes taken from the web site of Professor Richard Schwartz.

"If the entire US population were total vegetarians, no irrigation water at all would be needed to produce our food"

"It requires 78 calories of fossil fuel for each calorie of protein obtained from feedlot produced beef. Grains and beans require only two to five percent as much fossil fuel. Energy input to the US food system now accounts for about 16.5% of the total energy budget"

"If all the petroleum reserves in the world were devoted solely to feeding a typical North American diet to the world's more than 4 billion people, all the world's oil would be used up in just 13 years. "

As some of you need statistics to convince your meat eating friends I shall continue.

"According to the British group Vegfam, a 10-acre farm can support 60 people growing soyabeans, 24 people growing wheat, 10 people growing corn and only two producing cattle. Britain - with a population of 56 millions - could support a population of 250 million on an all-vegetable diet."

Now look at other adverse effects and issues associated with increased meat consumption.

  • Farm animals produce 13 billion tones of waste every year. Liquid effluent from factory farms often pollutes soils and rivers.
  • Farm animals generate gaseous wastes (10% of all greenhouse gases) like methane and carbon dioxide which contribute to global warming.
  • Globally between a third and a half of the world's harvest is fed to animals - this could be saved and made available to feed another 4 billion people by 2050.
  • Globally meat consumption is increasing. In the last 40 years, consumption has grown from 56 to 80 Kg of meat per person, per year in Europe and from 89 to 124 Kg in the US. Heaven help us if the Indians and Chinese reach these figures.
  • Currently the 6 billion human population shares this earth with 1 billion pigs, 1.3 billion cows, 1.8 billion sheep and goats and 15.4 billion chickens. Where would we find land and water to feed more and more animals and birds that will be needed to meet meat demand by more affluent and increasing world population?
  • Between 1960 and 1985, nearly 40% of all Central American rain forests were destroyed to create pasture for beef cattle.

So, you may ask if ……..

it takes six times the amount of land to feed a meat eater than it does to feed a vegetarian, if every kilogram of beef costs on average: 50-100,000 liters of water, 5,900 joules of energy, 145kg of topsoil loss, 40kg of manure, 11.5kg of CO2 equivalent, 10kg grain, 200mg of antibiotics and a range of pesticides and other meats leave large environmental footprints too and this is obvious to anyone with a little bit of brain why are our leaders not advocating and planning for a vegetarian solution?

Honestly speaking, I don't know what the real answer is. Perhaps it has something to do with the leadership of the environment movement. As long as the leadership is in the hands of meat consuming environmentalists no long term major advance can take place in improving the environment. These people are making a lot of noises while tracts of forests are being raised to the ground, green lands are turned into deserts and habitats of endangered species are destroyed. They have conveniently focused on only short term options of "recycling" and "renewables" and have ignored the more significant solution of adopting a vegetarian diet.

Jonathon Porrit is a leading environmentalist in UK. I thank him for advocating meat reduction. However, in his forward to "The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat', a report by Mark Gold for Compassion in World Farming Trust, he says the following.

"I have never been a vegetarian, and as a prominent exponent of all things sustainable, have been attacked by vegetarians for what they see as inconsistency at best and outright hypocrisy at worst…… Whilst I will always continue to campaign actively to improve the welfare of farm animals, and to eliminate all forms of cruelty from food chain, I'm reconciled - with those caveats - to the moral acceptability of the human species using other animal species for their own benefit."

One can easily see that the compassion circle for Jonathan Porrit does not extend to all other species. With the belief he has it would be very difficult for him to persuade other people to give up meat and adopt a plant based diet in order to achieve a sustainable long term rich environment for generations to come. It is high time that the true environmentalists, that are vegetarians, took charge and led the world in the right direction. We vegetarians can't be complacent. We can do a lot more by following some one who said "take what you need and give what you can". We must not throw away things just because they are out of fashion.

So what does a vegetarian world means?

  • It means more land for growing forests
  • Saving of water for human beings
  • Elimination of hunger from the world
  • Habitats for endangered species
  • Compassionate and caring society
  • Prevention of global warming
  • Clean air

Finally, I want to have a word with the young generations of India, a land looked up to in the past for moral guidance. From what I have read lately I am most disappointed with them as they increasingly adopt western habits and consume more and more meat. We the vegetarians from the West are horrified to learn that more and more slaughterhouses are being constructed and poultry farms are growing in numbers. What is happening to the land of Gandhi, Nanak, Buddha and Mahavir? What is happening to your circle of compassion? Is it shrinking? Please, copy us who are from the West and remain vegetarians. My message to you is "IT'S COOL TO BE A VEGETARIAN".


"The world eats dead carcasses, living by neglect and greed. Like a goblin, or a beast, they kill and eat the forbidden carcasses of meat."
p. 723, Guru Granth Sahib

"You say that the One Lord exists in all, so why do you kill chickens?"
p. 1350, Guru Granth Sahib

Following the ongoing debates amongst sections of Sikhs, who argue that meat is not forbidden by Sikh ethics; I respectfully ask them to examine the following definitive quotations given by the GURU GRANTH SAHIB (the central and abiding source of Sikh ideals and principle). Thesea are set out in a web-site, which provides a comprehensive description of the Sikh viewpoint on this subject:

This should dispel all doubts, arguments, myths and misconceptions about the forbidden and condemned status of meat in Sikh philosophy. Those who go into the depths of the Guru Granth Sahib, will find that it rejects the consumption of not only meat, but also fish and eggs. The eating of fish is described in the Guru Granth as a the "lowest act of life".


P.E.A.C.E is the message advocated by the Sikh philsophy.


We love Waheguru because of his beauteous, benevolent, abundant NATURAL CREATION, not inspite of it!


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