According to a national Vegetarian Resource Group Poll conducted by Harris Interactive, nearly 15 percent of Americans say they never eat fish or seafood.
The pacific sardine lives along the coasts of North America from Alaska to southern California. Sardines, once a major part of the California fishing industry, are now considered to be “commercially extinct.” Another species classified as “commercially extinct” is the New England haddock. Ecologists have also been concerned about the significant reduction in finfish, the Atlantic bluefin tuna, Lake Erie cisco, and blackfins that inhabit Lakes Huron and Michigan.
Over 200,000 porpoises are killed every year by fishermen seeking tuna in the Pacific. Sea turtles are similarly killed in Caribbean shrimp operations.
Half of all fresh water worldwide is used for thirsty livestock. Producing eight ounces of beef requires an unimaginable 25,000 liters of water, or the water necessary for one pound of steak equals the water consumption of the average household for a year.
Factory farm pollution is the primary source of damage to coastal waters in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. Scientists report that over sixty percent of the coastal waters in the United States are moderately to severely degraded from factory farm nutrient pollution. This pollution creates oxygen-depleted dead zones, which are huge areas of ocean devoid of aquatic life.
The World Conservation Union lists over 1,000 different fish species that are threatened or endangered. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate, over 60 percent of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted. Commercial fish populations of cod, hake, haddock, and flounder have fallen by as much as 95 percent in the north Atlantic.
Nor can fish provide any help in alleviating global hunger. There are signs that the fishing industry (which is quite energy-intensive) has already overfished the oceans in several areas. And fish could never play a major role in the worlds diet anyway: the entire global fish catch of the world, if divided among all the world’s inhabitants would amount to only a few ounces of fish per person per week.
The American Dietetic Association reports that throughout history, the human race has lived on “vegetarian or near vegetarian diets,” and meat has traditionally been a luxury. Studies show the healthiest human populations on the globe live almost entirely on plant foods–useful data, given our skyrocketing healthcare costs. Nathan Pritikin, author of The Pritikin Plan, recommended not more than three ounces of animal protein per day; three ounces per week for his patients who had already suffered a heart attack.
In A Vegetarian Sourcebook (1983), author Keith Akers observes:
“Much has been made over the virtues of chicken and fish in comparison to red meats such as beef and pork. It has been said that eating chicken and fish will aid in the prevention of heart disease, because these meats are relatively lower in fat and contain more unsaturated than saturated fat, thus helping to lower cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, these claims are not supported by the evidence. Studies in which human volunteers switched from diets including beef and eggs, to one including fish and chicken showed that serum cholesterol levels were not appreciably lowered by switching to chicken and fish.
“And an examination of the nutritional data suggests an explanation: while it is true that chicken and fish contain less fat than beef, it is also true that chicken and fish contain about twice as much cholesterol per calorie as does beef. Indeed, some seafoods (such as crab, shrimp, and lobster) are exceptionally high in cholesterol content.
“All of these diverse theories have roughly the same dietary implications. Meat is high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and total fat. Plant foods, by contrast, are usually low in saturated fat and total fat, and contain zero cholesterol. Vegetarians have lower levels of serum cholesterol than do meat-eaters, with total vegetarians (vegans) having the lowest levels of all.”
Obviously, then, the idea of providing the entire world with a Western diet is quite absurd. But what about satisfying today’s demand for meat–which provides only a fraction of the population with a Western-style diet? If the world population triples in the next 100 years, and meat consumption continues, then meat production would have to triple as well. Instead of 3.7 billion acres of cropland and 7.5 billion acres of grazing land, we would require 11.1 billion acres of cropland and 22.5 billion acres of grazing land.
But this is slightly larger than the total land area of the six inhabited continents! We are desperately short of forests, water and energy already. Even if we resort to extreme methods of population control: abortion, infanticide, genocide, etc…modest increases in the world population during the next generation would make it impossible to maintain current levels of meat consumption. On a vegetarian diet, however, the world could easily support a population several times its present size. The world’s cattle alone consume enough to feed over 8.7 billion humans.
Les Brown of the Overseas Development Council calculates that if Americans reduced their meat consumption by only 10 percent per year, it would free at least 12 million tons of grain for human consumption–or enough to feed 60 million people.