Universal vegetarianism would avoid 7. If the associations on which this computer modelling is based are robust, those are impressive figures. But much of the benefit they claim to demonstrate could still be realised if omnivores ate better-balanced diets with less meat. If the world adopted what the study called a healthy global diet, with less sugar than most in the West consume, plenty of fruit and veg and just 43g of red meat a day, the number of deaths avoided would still be 5. The global healthy diet thus has people relying on quite a lot of plant protein, too.
Rich-world diets, though, tend to get all their daily protein requirement from animals, and then some. Americans eat 90g of protein a day, Europeans 85g, and most of it comes from animal products. Because meat is energy rich, eating more than your protein needs dictate means taking on a lot of calories, which may well be stored as fat.
Vegans both eat less protein and get it from less energy-rich and potentially fattening products. In a French study found that both vegans 62g of protein a day and vegetarians 67g were healthier than the meat eaters wolfing down 81g. They were also eating more varied diets, and, perhaps crucially, fewer calories overall; it may have been those choices, rather than veganism per se, that made the difference.
On the environment, too, vegans and vegetarians have a point. Growing their food requires less land than raising meat does. Animals do not turn all the energy in the crops they eat into calories in their muscles. They need some of that energy to stay alive—and while that overhead is good for the animals, from a food-production standpoint it looks like a waste.
This waste means you need more land per calorie of food if you are producing beef than if you are producing broccoli. Admittedly, a lot of grazing is on land that would not necessarily be suitable for arable farming. Alon Shepon of the Weizmann Institute and colleagues have looked at this in terms of opportunity costs. They argue that if America stopped paying these opportunity costs and got the protein from plants in the first place, it would be equivalent to increasing the food supply by a third—or eliminating all of the losses due to food waste.
Being so land hungry means cattle farming changes the climate; clearing land for pasture creates greenhouse gases. On top of that, the bugs in ruminant digestive systems produce methane, a fairly powerful greenhouse gas. Once it gets out of the cows—by belching, mainly, not, as is commonly thought, farting—this warms the world. The savings are not all owing to cows; but a large part of them are see chart 2.
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Raising cattle produces seven times more in terms of emissions per tonne of protein than raising pork or poultry does, 12 times more than soya and 30 times more than wheat. Giving up beef captures many of the benefits of going vegan. Other animals make a lot less difference. Getting your protein from insects—very efficient converters—might be almost indistinguishable from veganism in environmental terms. Except, that is, to the insects. One of the main things that motivates many vegans and vegetarians is a belief that killing and eating animals is wrong.
The vegans also abstain from milk and eggs because there, too, they see a lot of exploitation, death and suffering the question of honey remains a point of contention. In dairy herds calves are typically taken from their mothers within 24 hours, compared with the nine months to a year they would suckle if left to themselves. Male calves are killed or reared for meat. In industrial egg-production day-old male chicks are killed and simply discarded. Even if one keeps strictly to meat, though, the death toll involved is immense.
Importance of Good Nutrition
Over 50bn farm animals are killed for meat every year. The best known proponent of the case that this matters is Peter Singer, a philosopher at Princeton University. Mr Singer argues that treating the interests of humans as superior to those of other animals is a prejudice, analogous to treating men as superior to women or whites as superior to blacks.
It depends on an arbitrary distinction between two groups, one of which has the power to make the distinction stick. What matters, he says, is not what species an individual belongs to but its capacity for suffering. If an animal suffers as much as a person, then things that it would be impermissible to do to a person—killing and eating him, immobilising him in a cage—are unacceptable if done to the animal, too. This moral point would seem to depend in part on an empirical point; to what extent and in what manner do animals suffer? But they definitely feel pain, and some can both express preferences and, it would appear, hold beliefs about the preferences of others.
That would seem to have some moral salience.
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But would it be better for animals that suffer not to exist at all? A vegan world would have no need of cows, happy or sad. The genus Bos currently numbers some 1. Should those lives be valued less than the lives of the wildlife which might repopulate their overgrown pastures when they are gone?
When it comes to wild animals, people tend to abhor population collapse; are things that different when it comes to domestic animals? Neither courts nor legislatures seem very interested. Reducing the cruelty that animals suffer, though, is more plausible, both through legislation—battery cages for hens have been banned in the EU since —and through consumer pressure, such as a preference for free-range products, cruelty-free certification, transparent sourcing and the like. This second route, though, is not available to vegans.
Though biology is not destiny, humans, like their relatives the chimpanzees, evolved as omnivores; the evidence is in the teeth and the guts. As the increasing consumption of meat worldwide shows, a lot of people in most cultures really do like eating it; the vast majority will do so, at least a bit, when they get the chance. None of that makes veganism, full- or part-time, and the spread of plant-based foods irrelevant. If so, and in particular if reduced consumption of red meat is part of the process, there will probably be substantial gains in health and happiness.
And if the world improves standards in the meat-rearing operations that remain, some of that may even be shared with animals. Join them.
The Impact of Nutrition on Your Health
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New to The Economist? Sign up now Activate your digital subscription Manage your subscription Renew your subscription. Topics up icon. Blogs up icon. One day, my doctor explains me that I could be exposed to heart potential risks.
I decided to change my food habits and it completely changes my life. Thanks for this great article! I think of white sugar the same way I think of cocaine!! Thanks for the informative post! Came across your blog while reading recent studies on tooth decay and sugar I am a general dentist. Very interesting research on high sugar and heart disease. Obviously we have major issues especially with youth having access to much more sugar than in other generations, especially with fast food restaurants.
I raise bees, I wonder if sugar found in honey would also cause the same results in increased heart disease? It is such a scary thought to walk around wondering what you would do if you had a heart attack. I am taking steps to eat healthier. This article is very informative. Fructose boost liver fat, produces sLDL, oxidizes lipoproteins, damages arterial walls, induces hypertension, blocks insulin and thus chronically raises blood sugar.
Recommended reading: The Fructose Disease — how a single molecule has caused every lifestyle disease.
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Everything you just said about fructose is blown out of proportion and wrong. By what physiological mechanism could fructose block insulin secretion? You realize humans evolved eating fruits; which have fructose? Table sugar has nearly the same percentage of fructose as HFCS and honey actually has more fructose than table sugar. You are correct, except you missed out on one important little detail. True, humans did evolve to eat fruits, but if you want to trace back the time even further before the agricultural revolution, humans only ate fruit once a year.
Additionally, fruits contain high fiber which has been shown to slow the absorption of fructose from intestine to blood.
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So in conclusion, you are underestimating the dangers processed sugar can bring in this day and age. I quite agreed with you that too much of sugar can lead to heart disease. Not only sugar, but smoking obesity, fatty foods and using hard drugs like cocaine can also lead to heart problem. Related Information: Reducing Sugar and Salt. Related Posts: Opioids for acute pain: How much is too much? Are you taking too much anti-inflammatory medication?
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