Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD
So we’ve gone over the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, but are there any other benefits? Many people become vegetarian for one reason, then discover many other benefits as well.
For instance, I stopped eating meat because I couldn’t stand the thought of eating an animal anymore. However, I eliminated my frequent migraines almost immediately.
Then, in college, I took an ecology class, and we had to do a carbon footprint test. I was slightly below the average until it asked me about my diet. Stating I was a vegetarian dropped my carbon footprint considerably, a by-product of my diet that I hadn’t considered before then.
So, are there other benefits you haven’t thought of? Possibly, read on to learn more.
There are several religions that are vegetarian.
Jainism, founded on nonviolence, mandates vegetarianism, either lacto-vegetarian or vegan. This religion even considers violence towards plants. No root vegetables or any other edible plants that involve uprooting/killing the plant are allowed either.
This way of life extends beyond their food, extending into all aspects of their life, such as the clothes they wear or even where they go.
Hinduism reveres vegetarianism but does not require it. This religion also strongly opposes violence and fears retribution karma when violence occurs. In modern days, diet tends to depend on a lot of factors, including their complicated caste system.
Those who choose to eat meat may consume Jhatka meat, which stipulates how the animal lives up until the point of slaughter. Animal slaughter does exist within the Hindu religion but is illegal in parts of India.
Buddha prohibited his followers from killing humans and animals. But whether or not that extends into meat is sometimes called into question. Buddhist doctrine forbade the first Buddhist monks and some modern monks from storing and preparing food.
Instead, they must rely on the generosity of Buddha’s followers; they cannot make special diet requests. Meaning sometimes, they are given meat. Buddha refused to prohibit eating meat so long as the monks and nuns did not see or hear the slaughter or learn that the animal was slaughtered specifically for them.
Some meats are strictly prohibited, such as meat from humans, royal animals, and dangerous animals.
Sikhism carries a belief that their diet should be simple and that may or may not include meat. They do not eat halal meat because they do not believe in animal sacrifice to God. Those who choose to eat meat eat Jhatka meat, similar to Hinduism.
Medieval Jewish rabbis and some modern rabbis promote vegetarianism as a moral ideal. Some believe that Kosher laws are a way of weaning followers of Judaism off of meat.
Some Christian denominations strongly encourage or demand vegetarianism, most notably Seventh Day Adventists.
Vegan fasting is common in Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodox Churches. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is known to participate in vegan fasts for 210 days out of the year.
Finally, Catholicism dictates a meat-free fast during Lent. Although, they do allow for fish and shellfish during this period.
Islam is interesting regarding vegetarianism. Some Muslims are strictly vegetarian, while others believe that a vegetarian diet is un-Islamic. Religious leaders often consider vegetarianism “permitted” but certainly not required.
Additionally, any animal that is consumed must be raised and slaughtered according to halal rules, which dictate the animal be treated as cruelty-free as possible.
However, Qurbani (a yearly animal sacrifice) is still considered a compulsory practice by many modern Islamic scholars. However, more recently, sacrificing (donating) money to Islamic Relief Funds can be acceptable as well.
Rastafarians strongly believe in a healthy diet, avoiding artificial preservatives and flavors. Many Rastafari followers believe that they should forbid all animal-based foods, though some only limit pork.
Vegetarianism is not a requirement of believers of the Baha’i’ faith, though founders of the religion believe that society will gradually become vegetarian. They do believe that killing animals is contrary to compassion and encourage vegetarianism in those who are not sick.
Zoroastrianism requests that believers eat vegetarian, and they also believe that society will become vegetarian in the future. Followers believe that the “evil one” taught an evil king to eat meat, and they condemn cruelty against animals.
There are so many more! Can you tell that I find religion fascinating? Religious doctrine is one of the top reasons to be vegetarian!
I’m sure this is a topic that many of you can expand on yourselves. This is one of the biggest reasons that people turn to vegetarianism or veganism. It’s why I initially stopped eating meat.
I’m not here to show you horrifying pictures of mistreated animals. I’m sure you’ve seen them already anyway.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.Gandhi, Indian spiritual leader
I actually wrote a paper in one of my graduate classes on this very topic. Essentially, the average American emits about 2.5 carbon dioxide equivalents per year. If that American has a particularly meat-heavy diet, that can rise to about 3.5 carbon dioxide equivalents.
Comparatively, a vegan contributes only 1.5 carbon dioxide equivalents every year.
This is due to a reduction in water and land use, less food waste, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and less nitrogen waste released into the environment.
Good intentions are not enough, however. Buying plants and letting them rot in your fridge does not lower your carbon “foodprint.” You already bought the food item, then ate something else, increasing your food waste and the amount of carbon dioxide equivalents attributed to yourself.
This is one of the more recent reasons to be vegetarian.
To check your carbon footprint, check out this calculator.
Cost-wise, vegetarianism can go both ways. It can be significantly cheaper if you choose to fill your diet with whole foods. Beans (canned and dried), quinoa, brown rice, tofu, seitan, tempeh, nuts and seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables are all pretty cheap.
Dairy and eggs are generally pretty cheap if you choose to eat those.
It’s when you get into the specialty products that you start racking up the price on your grocery bill. Fake meats, dairy substitutes, and pre-prepared food items can all increase your food costs.
So can foods that have a “health halo,” such as various functional foods or “healthy” substitutes for traditional foods.
In fact, a study done in 2105 showed that we can decrease our food bill by about $750 per year when we cut meat out of our diet. And that’s not accounting for organic, grass-fed meat sources.
Reduction in healthcare costs related to preventable diseases associated with high meat consumption
Of course, if we live longer, it may all be a wash in the end!
In addition to your own bank account, vegetarianism may have a positive impact on the world economy as well. A study published by the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food stated that a shift in vegetarian eating may positively affect the global economy MORE than it positively affects the environment.
They estimated a savings of 1-31 trillion USD (about 0.4-13% of the global GDP) in 2050. Now, that is quite the range, and obviously based on predictive models, but still impressive. The US has one of the highest healthcare costs in the world, per capita, so we may see more impact than countries with government-funded healthcare in this scenario.
We’ve seen an uptick in employment opportunities from various plant-based companies, such as Oatley and Lightlife. However, it’s difficult to determine how those jobs will reshuffle if there are fewer job opportunities in animal agriculture.
Banish World Hunger, Maybe…
This argument comes from a simple principle. It takes less land space to grow grains and beans than it does to grow those things and then feed them to animals. If we grew more of those and fed them to people rather than animals, we would be able to sustainably and cheaply, feed much, much, much more people.
This is an overly simplistic description of a very serious upcoming problem. Especially when we consider the biggest population growths are expected to happen in developing countries, where poverty is strikingly high. Some families in these regions already spend almost 70% of their income on food!
Obviously, the idea of switching to a vegetarian, or even low-meat, diet as a means to provide food for more people is an untested idea. But many outlets are talking about it. This is not just an idea that PETA threw out there, hoping to convert a carnivore to veganism.
The idea has merit. This requires a gradual and thoughtful collective effort from society as a whole. The land would have to be converted. Farmers would need to rotate crops strategically. Idealism must blend with pragmatism.
I can’t feasibly see a way our current society could get behind this idea and test it out.
Personal Values and Lifestyle choices
Dietary choices that don’t align with your personal values and ethics can cause some mental harm. We often don’t think about diet in our expression of our personal moral code. Usually, many of us eat in a way that mirrors the dietary habits of our parents.
When we remove food items that aren’t in alignment with our values, we alleviate cognitive dissonance, which can be quite distressing, even if you aren’t aware of it.
Are any of these points that you’ve thought of before? Have you considered something I missed? Tell me about your experiences in the comments!
Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian, mom, wife, and vegetarian in North Texas. She has dedicated Dietitian Jenn to be a source of information, ideas, and inspiration for people like her, vegetarians that live with people with different dietary beliefs and/or needs in a multivore household.