Vegetarianism: not a missed-steak

Jacob Mandel

Three months ago, every Sunday night kicked off with the unmistakable smell of steak wafting from my kitchen. Every morning started with a dozen chicken sausages, and my go-to lunch was a Popeyes chicken sandwich. But despite this, I gradually became inspired by one of my best friend’s eating habits. A steadfast vegan, my friend had boundless energy and remarkably healthy habits in and out of the kitchen. Although I was initially unsure that I would be able to transition out of my meat-heavy diet, I found the vegetarian lifestyle to suit me quite well. In the following months, not only did I feel more energetic and pay better attention in school, but it was encouraging to know that I was reducing my carbon footprint.Since switching to a mainly vegetarian diet, I’ve concluded that it’s important to assume a vegetarian lifestyle in order to live a healthier life, be more conscious of the effects of what you eat and be more environmentally friendly. 

Illustration by Kalyn Dawes

Mainly due to lower fat and sodium levels, a plant-based diet has been proven to decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, according to Harvard Health. Healthline, an organization dedicated to improving the mental and physical health of its readers, found that plant-based foods such as legumes that are high in protein contain a healthier or equally effective protein as most animal foods. More so, plant protein-rich foods don’t contain all the fat and sodium that meat proteins have. For example, Livestrong states that a six ounce steak has 40 grams of protein with 12 grams of saturated fat, while one cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein and no fat. 

In the long run, leaner plant-based proteins can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of a heart attack. However, it is equally important to eat high-nutrient vegetables and carbohydrates alongside a protein source; the vitamins present in kale and the fiber in brown rice are vital to include in a vegetarian diet. That being said, there are countless ways to make a vegetarian meal equally delicious and healthy; my go-to vegetarian dinner is tofu stir fry with broccoli, mushrooms and rice. 

In addition to the health benefits, a vegetarian diet has numerous environmental benefits that cannot be understated. For instance, the UK Vegetarian Society states that you can save the same amount of emissions by eating vegetarian food for one year as you could by taking a small family car off the road fix months. These emissions come from the factories that process the beef, pork and chicken most Americans eat, as well as from the methane gas emitted from millions of cows in the U.S. 

Eating a meat-heavy diet, especially red meat, also contributes to deforestation. The Rainforest Partnership states that three fourths of the Amazon Rainforest is currently being cleared for the production of beef. Given that the Amazon Rainforest is responsible for absorbing five percent of the Earth’s carbon emissions (two billion tons) per year, according to AP News, it is no surprise that environmentalist groups are encouraging a reduction of beef consumption. 

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that the production and transportation of plant products can still be detrimental for the environment. Joseph Poore, a researcher at the University of Oxford, argues that the air-transportation of fruits and vegetables, especially when out-of-season, emits more greenhouse gases per kilogram produced than poultry meat.This sentiment is echoed by Angelina Frankowska, who studies sustainability at the University of Manchester. She and her team found that, for every kilogram of asparagus produced, 5.3 kilogram of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere. 

Although the environmental hazards of vegetables are alarming, they pale in comparison to the negative effects of meat consumption. For reference, for every kilogram of poultry produced, there are 15.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted. For beef, the carbon dioxide emitted per kg is an astronomical 22 kilograms, mainly due to the rampant deforestation to make room for cattle farms. 

When considering vegetarian foods’ relatively benign relationship with the environment, along with the various health benefits of a vegetarian diet, it is evident that eating vegetarian is the diet of the future. Not only did the diet boost my energy and consciousness of the environmental and physical effects of what I ate, but it also heightened my mood and productivity. Take it from someone who used to eat a 12 ounce T-bone steak every Sunday night: vegetarianism is worth a shot.