Meat or potatoes

It seems as if every other person you meet in Portland is a vegetarian, or some other form of non-meat consumer.

It seems as if every other person you meet in Portland is a vegetarian, or some other form of non-meat consumer. These people range from those who only eat fish—which, by their reasoning, are dumb and ugly enough to eat guilt-free—to those who will not eat anything that is capable of casting a shadow. Vegetarians are a diverse group who choose their diets for a number of reasons.

Many vegetarians claim that they are, in a small way, assisting in the betterment of society by reducing their carbon emissions, helping to solve world hunger and making sure cute animals don’t end up beaten to death and slathered in barbecue sauce.

But is vegetarianism actually the solution to any of these problems? Both sides, vegetarians and omnivores, claim to have studies and arguments that prove their case.

 “I am working on gradually cutting meat out ofmy diet,” said PSU student Kaitlyn Pearson of her reason for choosing a vegetarian diet. “Vegetarianism is truly the easiest way to be sustainable.”

Other reasons students choose to become vegetarian are the cruelty animals face, and the health benefits they feel vegetarianism can bring.

Vegetarianism has created an entire economy by producing foods and products that help eaters get the same satisfying and nutritious meals as those that eat flesh. With vegetarian and vegan “replacement” versions of foods such as bacon, butter and cheese, it seems easy for someone to become a vegetarian. So what’s the harm?

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has released several studies that state that “well planned” vegetarian diets can be healthy, reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and lower the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes. The group states that if a diet is properly planned and includes supplements and fortified foods, a vegetarian can live a healthy—if not healthier—lifestyle.

On the other hand, the Weston A. Price Organization has posted its own series of studies that show the pitfalls of vegetarianism. One major argument against such a diet is that vegans and vegetarians put themselves at risk of deficiencies in vitamins B12, A and D. The studies also go on to disprove the claims that vegetarianism prevents diseases, as there are genetic factors that can influence a predisposition toward certain diseases.

Many vegetarians claim that meat is a recent introduction into the human diet, yet scientists have yet to agree on the timeframe in which we consumed animal products. Some argue that without the consumption of meat, our brains would not have developed into the complex and massive structures they are today, while others place our neurological development on our diet of tubers and roots.

But there are also clear statistics on the risks of a diet that includes too much meat. And it is difficult to deny that the meat industry also has a major effect on our environment.

The meat industry is the largest segment of United States agriculture, according to the American Meat Institute (AMI). Besides sounding like an excellent name for a pornographic film, the AMI produces statistics showing the success of the meat industry and its profound effect on our economy. In 2009, over 154 billion dollars in meat was sold, and the meat industry provided jobs to over half a million people. They also killed 92.1 billion pounds of animals last year.

According to a study conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), more than half of the world’s food is used to feed animals. Agriculture of both animals and plants can not only influence use of land, but it can affect the toxicity of water and also results in a massive amount of carbon emissions. The UNEP report states that “A substantial reduction of [environmental] impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

So what is the solution to the vegetarian quandary?

On one hand, there are potential health risks. Switching the world to a less animal-product based diet would only divert the resources we use to farm animals towards farming plants. If plants were to be successfully farmed en masse, that would require harmful and wasteful fertilizers, GM-products and could potentially deplete water and soil resources.

Without changing our ways, we put ourselves at risk of heart disease, continue a process of animal cruelty and sap our earth of resources.

Instead of taking the side of one extreme or another, a balanced and reduced meat diet seems like a proper solution to such issues. Instead of eating meat every day, indulge once or twice per week and use alternate protein sources such as eggs, nuts or legumes in order to get the nutrients you need. Also, buying organic or biodynamic meats will help lessen the guilt of consuming tortured creatures, as these foods allow for animals to live in much more pleasant and humane environments.

So enjoy your steak or your vegetarian plate without guilt—the main concern is to make sure your diet is balanced and allows for you to acquire the nutrients your body needs to function properly. While beer and ramen are vegetarian, they don’t encompass the spectrum of nutrients you need to do anything other than sit in your room and play videogames.

 So don’t be afraid to eat a carrot or a steak, but remember to do so in a healthy way. Eating a certain way doesn’t make you any better than anyone else, especially since all that food ends up the exact same way. ?