Meat, eggs, and dairy products make for bad macroeconomics and bad microeconomics. They are bad for the world economy, the national economy, and the family budget.
Animal foods are more expensive than plant-based foods. A family can easily cut its food bill by eating a plant-based diet. The cheapest and healthiest diet would include sprouted and/or cooked grains plus sprouted and/or cooked legumes, raw and lightly cooked backyard greens, nuts, fruit, flax seed, and wild greens such as dandelion flowers. When grains, legumes, beans, and sunflower seeds are sprouted, they can double in volume. They come alive nutritionally. There is more food to eat for the same price. Such food does not even have to be cooked. Healthier family members will miss fewer days at work and school.
A strictly vegetarian household will save on utility bills. Without meat grease to dissolve and without germs to scald, the hot water heater can be turned down from the standard 140° F. setting to 120° F. This small adjustment produces significant savings. When you do not cook with meat, milk, and eggs, washing dishes and pots and pans is mostly a matter of rinsing them off. Sprouted grain and sprouted pulses can be eaten without being cooked, again saving energy.
Without meat to store, freezer temperatures need not be so cold. My freezer contains bags of vegetables, juice, Rice Dream “ice cream,” blackberries, grapes, and plums. (Cut out the seeds and freeze plums in plastic bags.) There are frozen bananas in my freezer. (Buy overripe bananas by the box for ten cents a pound; peel, bag, freeze them, and use them to make nondairy smoothies.) Meat should be frozen to 0°F. for maximum protection, but no plant-based food needs to be kept this cold. I set my freezer on 20°F. With no milk or eggs to store in the refrigerator, the temperature setting can be higher. Vegetables just do not rot and grow bacteria as quickly or with the same stench as do animal-based foods.
A strictly vegetarian refrigerator is easier to sanitize: The infectious diseases we humans contract do not typically grow in vegetables, whereas they do grow in animals and in animal-based foods. A vegan kitchen requires less care in cleaning it. Likewise, a vegetarian oven is much easier to clean. Frying meat produces clouds of grease, which coat walls. Roaches can multiply with only the thin film of grease on your walls to eat.
In almost all areas of the country, all household water?—?including so-called gray water from the sink, bathtub, and dishwasher—goes right into the sanitary sewer or septic tank along with the black water from the commode. But it is really only black water that needs to go into the sewer or septic tank. Grey water could be allowed to run out into the back yard to water the yard and garden. However, because most people eat greasy animal-based foods, those few cities that do allow separate gray water systems that empty into the yard typically require charcoal filters to remove the grease. Because so many people forget to back flush their filters and allow them to putrefy, most cities just flatly prohibit separate backyard disposal of gray water. As a result more water goes down the sanitary sewer and is wasted, and the cost of water treatment is increased. More fresh water must be drawn to water lawns and gardens.
Health care costs continue to increase in the United States. We spend far more than any other country on health care per capita, an astounding 14 percent of our gross domestic product, around $1.7 trillion out of a $12 trillion (2004) economy. Yet around 43 million Americans have no health coverage other than going to the county hospital when there is an emergency. Those who eat a plant-based diet are much healthier and require much less medical care. To the extent our population moved to a plant-based diet, the national cost of health care could be greatly reduced. Costs associated with eating our standard animal-based diet are from $24 to $61 billion per year, equal to costs associated with cigarette smoking. (N.D. Barnard, A. Nicholson, J.L. Howard, “The Medical Costs Attributable to Meat Eating,” Preventive Medicine (24 (6), pp. 646-655, Nov. 24, 1995.)
Dr. Dean Ornish wrote in 1990 that we were spending $7 billion a year on heart bypass surgeries and $78 billion on heart disease generally in the United States. To the extent that our population ate a plant-based diet, this cost could be greatly reduced. (Program for Reversing Heart Disease, p. 28.)
What would farmers do with their acreage if they were not using it to graze livestock and raise corn and soy to feed to livestock? They could grow oil seed and biomass crops which could be used to produce ethanol and biodiesel fuels to replace petroleum imports. In western North America, pine nuts could be grown, much more profitably than cattle can be raised.
Farmers could also grow kenaf and industrial hemp. Now, calm down, industrial hemp contains little of the intoxicating chemical THC that is found in marijuana. Hemp can be used to produce tasty and healthy seed cakes, food oils rich in essential fatty acids, high quality lubricating oils, ethanol, plastics, paper, and cloth. It can be used to make paper more cheaply than can be made from trees: Per acre, per year, hemp produces four times the amount of fiber than does wood. Hemp and kenaf are much cheaper to grow than trees. Harvesting them does not disturb watersheds and cause floods. Paper made from hemp is low in sulfur and doesn’t turn yellow, and such paper will last hundreds of years. The United States Constitution was written on hemp paper. On the other hand, paper made from wood pulp is high in sulfur and so is acidic and turns yellow and falls apart in a few years. It is absurd that we cut down trees to make paper.
The case for hemp is relevant to my topic also because it is one of the few sources of Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Hemp is very good for health.
Linen fabric can be produced from hemp or flax, and the fabric can be used for all the uses now made of cotton. Two bales, 1,000 pounds of fiber, can be produced per acre, and production cost is less than that of cotton. Cotton growing consumes roughly half of all pesticides used in this country, permanently polluting aquifers. Hemp requires no pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or weeding. Hemp can be rotated with other crops, which will grow better because hemp enriches the soil and fixes nitrogen while tree farming and cotton growing deplete the soil. Hemp produces a bumper crop every year, while the rule of thumb for rain-grown cotton is one good year, one mediocre year, and one bad year every three years.
Hemp biomass can be used to make alcohol fuel; this would reduce imports of oil and lessen the foreign trade deficit. Back in 1896, Rudolf Diesel used alcohol made from hemp in his engines. Henry Ford at one point planned to use alcohol made from hemp to power his cars.
It was primarily the oil industry that led the war against hemp, but the cotton industry and the forest industry benefited too and cheered from the sidelines. The growing of hemp was effectively banned in 1937 through the imposition of prohibitively high taxes. (Cris Conrad, Hemp Lifeline to the Future: The Unexpected Answer for Our Environmental and Economic Recovery.) Kenaf is another environmentally benign plant that can be grown for biomass, although it does not offer all the many uses of hemp.
Bamboo grows like a weed; in fact it is a weed. It can be compressed into extremely strong boards of any shape and size, which are stronger than steel on a per-pound basis. We should use bamboo instead of trees to build houses.
Flax grows easily in temperate regions. I know because I grow it myself in my yard. Flax seed and flax oil contain the hard-to-get Omega-3 essential fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid. Gandhi encouraged the growing of flax and said that where ever flax was grown, people were healthier and wealthier.
The production of animal-based foods is very wasteful of energy. It takes 78 calories of fuel to produce one calorie of protein from beef; it takes only 2 calories of fuel to produce a calorie of protein from soybeans or other foods that can be fed directly to humans. The equivalent of a gallon of gasoline is consumed in the production of a pound of grain-fed beef. (Our Food Our World: The Realities of an Animal-Based Diet, p. 5.)
If an enlightened U.S. government adopted a policy of educating people to eat little or no animal products, enormous amounts of fuel would not be wasted in the manufacture of agricultural chemicals and the operation of farm equipment. If at the same time such an enlightened government encouraged the growing of biomass on land now used to produce feed grains, enormous amounts of fuel could be produced. The combination of fuel saved and additional fuel produced would dramatically reduce the amount of oil that has to be imported. The U.S. ran a $617 billion dollar trade deficit in 2004, and around $180 billion of that deficit was spent to import petroleum. Much of the trade deficit could be eliminated, through using the same soy and corn fed to animals and turning it into fuel, through growing additional biomass and oil seed crops, through conservation, through conversion to hybrid vehicles, and through development of solar power, wind power, wave power, tidal power, and the power to be derived from the temperature differential between soil and ocean water at different depths. Unfortunately, our crony capitalist system—which arbitrarily favors one industry over another—seems determined to continue to burn oil until its all burned up. Petroleum can be made into myriad products. We can expect our grandchildren to ask us what our generation did with all the petroleum. We will say, “We burned it.” They will look at us with astonishment.
Farm corporations growing grains which are fed to animals—such as corn, soybeans, and sorghum—received $16 billion in federal price supports and subsidies in 1987. Although beef cattle producers receive no direct subsidies, they do receive indirect subsidies in the form of feed grains that are artificially low in cost due to government subsidies and in the form of low rent on grazing land in the West. Milk producers receive around $2 billion each year in price supports. (William Harris, M.D., The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism, p. 80.)
U.S. agricultural subsidies help U.S. farmers produce corn and wheat so cheaply that family farms throughout the Third World can no longer compete. Family farmers abandon farming and emigrate to the U.S., legally and illegally. The quickest way to stop illegal immigration from Latin America to the U.S. would be to change our farm subsidy system.
Thus, eating a green diet is good economics. There have been vegetarian political parties in the past, even candidates who ran for president on a vegetarian party ticket. Every percent by which we decrease our consumption of animal-based foods improves our health, our personal finances, and our economy.
The suggestion that we change our economic base away from animal-based foods confronts strong conventions about food choice. It also confronts a very deep-rooted capitalist system, as I say elsewhere. Cattle herding is the original form of capitalism. The very words “cattle” and “capital” derive from the very same root word. The first capitalism was “cattle-ism.”
Producers of milk, meat, eggs, and a host of animal by-products from soap to glue have invested heavily and derive huge profits from these products. Grass is of no immediate value to humans; we can’t eat it or spend it. However, by routing it through animals, it can be converted into meat, milk, and money.
Pure capitalism is the application of the profit system, without regard to the needs of people and the environment, and where all other considerations yield to profits. Fortunately, most capitalists do not believe in pure capitalism. Fortunately, liberal capitalism has been a force for positive change in many ways. Fortunately, there are some legal restraints on capitalism. Unfortunately, there are far too few restraints, especially regarding the production of animal-based foods and the destruction of the wild places.