Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Why More Young People Are Turning to Vegetarianism

by Ellie Williams-Brown

With National Vegetarian Week just drawing to a close, the attention on young vegetarians is rising, as is the number of young vegetarians. According to data from the International Vegetarian Society, the number of young vegetarians on the planet has grown appreciably over the past few years. It is believed there are more than 600 million vegetarian teenagers across the globe,  eight times more than 10 years before.

As a person who has never eaten meat, I feel oddly proud seeing Quorn Food sales increase by 20% yearly, and, occasionally, by 30% as the number of vegetarians rapidly increases year by year. The recent trend in being vegan and ‘clean-eating’ has encouraged more people to ask: “Why eat meat?” and consider the environmental impacts of eating so much. Back in 2012, the average American consumed 71.2 pounds of red meat and 54.1 pounds of poultry a year, but those figures are now decreasing. So, what is causing this huge increase in vegetarians, especially younger ones?

One of the main reasons younger people might be turning vegetarian is their ethical consciousness. The meat industry would argue animals are killed ‘humanely’; but, is there ever a humane way to kill anything? More than 25 billion animals are killed by the meat industry each year, in ways that should horrify any compassionate person. One average American meat-eater is responsible for the abuse and death of around 90 animals per year. Around 33 million square kilometres of land, an area about the size of Africa, is used solely for pasture, not including land that is used to grow crops for animal feed. So, to lessen this space - and to increase productivity - some farmers turn to factory farming. Factory farming is horrific. A factory farm is a large-scale industrial operation that houses thousands of animals raised only for food and treats them with hormones and antibiotics to prevent disease and maximise their growth and food output. Two in three farm animals in the world are now factory farmed; the beaks of chickens, turkeys, and ducks are often removed in these farms to reduce the excessive feather pecking and cannibalism seen among these stressed, overcrowded birds. To demonstrate how horrific it was, in Year 7 geography we were shown a video of the abused animals in factory farms. Many people violently sobbed all the way through. But when I asked: ‘If you care so much about the animals, why do you eat meat?’ it turns out I was the bad person; not them, the people contributing to the abuse. One girl cried throughout the whole section of the confined, overcrowded egg-laying hens who were sometimes starved for up to 14 days, exposed to changing light patterns and given no water in order to shock their bodies into moulting; where it’s common for 5% to 10% of hens to die during this forced moulting process. But once it was over, she went outside and ate her chicken sandwich, with no sign of the tears seen only a half-hour ago. So why are the ethical reasons sticking now? 

People are trying to cut back on their carbon footprint, and create a cleaner, better world. You can take shorter showers, walk to the shops, and not leave the lights on as well as turning off the tap. However, these little contributions - whilst helpful - are nothing compared to what could be done. An average car produces 3 kg of CO2 a day, whilst the effort to clear rainforests to produce beef for one hamburger produces 75 kg of CO2. Eating one pound of hamburger does the same damage as driving your car for three weeks non-stop. So, you can drive your car for 21 days, with no breaks, or you can eat the McDonalds one pound hamburger; it will do the same environmental damage. Every second, one football field of rainforest is destroyed in order to produce 257 hamburgers, which many would argue cannot be justified. Why stop the tap running as you brush your teeth, when you then go down to the butchers and buy a pound of beef; as up to 5000 gallons of water is required to raise that one pound of beef and 15,000 litres for 1 kg. Not eating meat reduces the depletion of our oceans' marine lives and the destruction of corals and reefs, as well as reducing the water supply. With livestock production creating more greenhouse gases than the whole world’s planes, trains and cars put together, the environmental issues alone are more than enough reason to turn vegetarian.

Over 4 million acres of cropland are lost to erosion in the US every year due to plundering farmlands to fatten animals for slaughter. One acre of land can grow 20,000 pounds of potatoes; that same acre of land, when used to grow cattle feed, can produce less than 165 pounds of edible cow flesh. All the grains grown to feed cattle could feed every single starving in the world. As Dr Walden Bello, the executive director of Food First, Institute for Food and Development Policy, said, “The fact is that there is enough food in the world for everyone. But tragically, much of the world's food and land resources are tied-up in producing beef and livestock-food for the well-off, while millions of children and adults suffer from malnutrition and starvation.” Vegetarianism is all about putting the animals first, but why are so many more animals forced to reproduce - to be killed - and then being put above other humans, as they are fed the food that could help those starving.

Eating meat is not just damaging our environment, it’s damaging ourselves. According to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians have a reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, colon cancer, adult-onset diabetes, osteoporosis, gout, gallstones, kidney stones, lung cancer, and breast cancer; the list goes on and on. And those health warnings have been around for years. Back in 1990 the New England Journal of Medicine reported a study of 88,000 nurses by Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital that found those who ate meat every day were more than twice as likely to get colon cancer as those who avoided meat.

Is the new generation so shallow that we are only not eating meat to save ourselves? Is doing that any worse than eating meat? No; not eating meat - no matter the reasons - is irrevocably better than doing the opposite, and perhaps with the internet at younger people’s fingertips, they are doing the research and are learning that being vegetarian is not only the best thing for themselves, but for everyone else as well. Or perhaps young people are learning to put their principles over the taste of their sandwich.


  1. I agree, love eating vegetarians! Yummier than meat eaters xxx

  2. But what if you eat meat grown on your local butcher's land?

  3. Maybe the writer should put the downsides of vegetarianism as well as the positives.

  4. You really moved me , with this article. I went on to research futher into animal abuse and watched a video of how bad it really is. I cried.

  5. Your article really opened my eyes about animal cruelty and even much so that I went on to watch a video and cried the whole time. I am maybe considering trying to be vegetarian.


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