Sunday, July 14, 2002

Vegetarianism in the United States

The July 15th issue of the Asia edition of Time magazine ran a special feature on "Vegetarianism," which surprised me somewhat because I'd always thought that there are probably aren't more countries where meat eating is as popular as in the United States. This article showed us that the recent trend in this country is not necessarily so. The title of it was "Should We All Be Vegetarians?"

There were a lot of interesting facts throughout the article: "...for many, meat is an obscene cuisine. It's not just the additives and ailments connected with the consumption of beef, more and more Americans, particularly young Americans, have started engaging in a practice that would once have shocked their parents. They are eating their vegetables. Also their grains and sprouts?" According to a poll of 10,000 adults taken in April of this year, some 10 million Americans today consider themselves to be "practicing vegetarians" and "an additional 20 million have flirted with vegetarianism sometime in their past."

There are a number of reasons why vegetarianism has grown in popularity, and one of those is the return to that statement, "Thou shalt not kill." But, it's not that those in the United States have suddenly become so very religious, but, rather, the influence of movies such as "Babe" and "Chicken Run" where animals are the main characters. According to this article, "Vegetarianism resolves a conscientious person's inner turf war by providing an edible complex of good-deed doing; to go veggie is to be more humane. Give up meat, and save lives!" And the "vanguard" for this seems to be, not adults, but children.

It appears that about 25% of teenagers consider vegetarianism to be "cool." In a study conducted by psychology professors at Arizona State University, "salad eaters" were rated more moral and considerate than "steak eaters." A professor at the University of Pennsylvania states, that "Kids today are the first generation to live in a culture where vegetarianism is common and publicly promoted on health and ecological grounds." The interesting part is also that these children don't become vegetarians because their parents taught them, but, in many cases, they decide on their own to become vegetarians. According to the article, "It's often their first act of domestic rebellion?"

I myself don't eat the meat of any mammals, but I do eat seafood, dairy products, eggs, and chicken, so I'm probably not considered a real "vegetarian." Apparently there are many types of vegetarians. Going in order from the most strict, the eight types are: Sproutarianism, fruitarianism, raw foodims, veganism, ovo-vegetarianism, lacto-vegetariansim, ovo-lacto-vegetarianism, pesco-, pollo- and semi-vegetarianism. I would probably belong in the last type. With so many varieties, it's difficult to decide which is best, but Time magazine recommends that, taking all nutrition elements into consideration, any category from lacto-vegetarianism on down is relatively "safe."

I wrote somewhere before that the reason I don't eat the meat of mammals is "to prevent negative effects on the environment." The study by David Pimentel, a Cornell University ecologist supports this: "In terms of caloric content, the grain consumed by American livestock could feed 800 million people...and, if exported, would boost the U.S. trade balance by $80 billion a year. Grain-fed livestock consume 100,000 liters of water for every kilogram of food they produce, compared with 2,000 liters for soybeans. Animal protein also demands tremendous expenditures of fossil-fuel energy...eight times as much as for a comparable amount of plant protein...And the U.S. livestock population consumes five times as much grain as the U.S. human population." And the most extraordinary fact being, "the U.S. livestock population--cattle, chickens, turkeys, lambs, pigs and the rest--outnumber humans 25 to 1."

The accuracy of the numbers quoted at the beginning--10 and 20 million--cannot be guaranteed. That's because, out of the 10,000 people surveyed, 4% of the respondents considered themselves to be vegetarians, and out of that group, 57% considered themselves to be "semi-vegetarians." And 36% of those considering themselves to be vegetarians answered that they were "ovo-lacto-vegetarians." So those who don't eat any eggs, dairy products, seafood, or poultry--the "strict" vegetarians are the remaining 7% (in other words, 0.28% of the population). According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the population of the United States is 281,421,906, so, that makes the estimated number of "strict" vegetarians 790,000. If those are the numbers, then my initial impression wasn't that far off.

- MT

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