Many individuals follow a vegetarian lifestyle for multiple reasons, and most promote their lifestyle to the public in the hopes of future change. The Current investigated the effects of vegetarianism on health and the many reasons that inspire a vegetarian existence.

Many people believe that eating meat is wrong because they respect conscious life and animals or for health or environmental reasons. In terms of health, the vegetarian diet has been shown to lower heart disease, cholesterol and saturated fats and offer higher levels of antioxidants and carbohydrates. Many believe that the increase in “factory farming,” which disregards the welfare of animals in order to supply the increasing demand for mass-produced meat, goes against an animal’s rights.

For many, the amount of vegetation it takes to produce meat is a strain upon the environment; the need for grazing land has caused 90 percent of all deforestation and the massive amounts of grain needed to fatten up livestock could be used to feed greater amounts of people than the meat it produces. Meat production also puts a strain upon water resources; it takes eight times the water to support a cow to adulthood than it does to support a cow’s weight in rice or soybeans. Some even believe that the growing “dead zones” found in coastal regions are caused by algae overgrowth, which is spurred by high levels of fertilizer. And it may sound silly, but cattle burps and farts are believed to account for 20 percent of the methane emissions in the U.S.

But not everyone who has attempted to become a vegetarian has had a good outcome; many find that they are not getting the nutrients their bodies need on the vegetarian diet. Lierre Keith, author of “The Vegetarian Myth,” found that being on a vegan diet for 20 years caused such problems as spine degeneration, hypoglycemia and even depression, and many symptoms continue to linger even though she went back to a meat-based diet.

Vegetarians also have to get the bulk of their calories from greater portions of soy, wheat and other grain products. Foods like tofu and soy milk are toxic and can lead to high insulin levels and weight gain because of their high carbohydrate loads.

According to Lierre, “moral vegetarians,” those who do not eat meat because they are against killing, do not really make justified sense.

“One grass-fed cow could feed a person for an entire year, yet one vegan (or vegetarian) meal involves hundred of deaths. Plants aren’t any less important than animals. Who decided plants wanted to sacrifice their lives?” Lierre said.

If you’re still concerned about animals, Lierre states that “A square meter of topsoil can contain a thousand different species of animals, and agriculture kills these animals.”

One big argument between vegetarians and non-vegetarians is about topsoil: the basis for our lives comes from topsoil filled with microorganisms and without it there would be no other life forms on earth. Topsoil gets nutrients from the decomposition of organic matter, things like fertilizer. Eating grains is actually killing the top soil making it less fertile year after year by taking its nutrients but not re-supplying it.

It might be good to know that animals that have been well-treated, well-fed and let free to graze are actually better for one’s health because their fat content is higher in Omega-3 and the quality of protein will be higher with no traces or hormones or antibiotics.

But both proponents and opponents of vegetarianism can agree on one issue: the meat and agricultural production practices need to be changes as both put a strain upon the environment. Cows should not be fed corn to increase their weight since their main source of nutrients is supposed to come from grasses. Both production procedures need to become more efficient to take up less water and land.

By Rachelle Brandel, staff writer for The Current