For many people, the holiday season is a time for gift giving. We consider following a vegetarian diet a profound way of giving the most precious gift of all, the gift of life. Consider that, on average, vegetarians live longer and healthier lives than non-vegetarians. In fact, those who have followed a vegetarian diet for at least half their lives live an average of 13 years longer than others, while experiencing lower rates of most common diseases. In this way a healthy vegetarian diet can give you the gift of life, by adding years to your life and life to your years.
A vegetarian diet also gives life to the earth and to the animals who share it with us. Many people are surprised to learn that there are now 56 Billion farm animals in the world. That’s eight times the human population. This enormous population does not come without consequences. For instance, a report by the UN said that raising livestock causes more global warming than all the cars, buses, trains, boats and airplanes in the world all put together – that’s from all the methane the animals produce, in addition to the fuel used to grow, fertilize and transport the food to the animals, the animals to the slaughterhouses, the refrigeration and transportation of the meat.
Raising livestock is also the single most important reason the rainforests are being burnt down – to make way for more grazing land for cattle. Here at home, livestock is not only one of the largest polluters of our waterways, but is also responsible for over 85% of all soil erosion in the United States – sapping the life from the soil itself. By following a vegetarian diet, we are helping to sustain the life of our environment. The point should also be made that a vegetarian diet gives the gift of life to all those farm animals as well.
Perhaps the most vulnerable among us are the world’s hungry who are desperate for the gift of life. The scale of world hunger is truly staggering. According to the Global Hunger Alliance, “840 million people live with chronic hunger, and 9 million people die of hunger-related causes each year worldwide.” We have all seen the amber waves of grain and corn as high as an elephant’s eye, but many of us are unaware of where it all goes. In fact we feed most of the food we grow to farm animals. For instance, in the United States we feed 70% of all the corn and 80% of all the soybeans to farm animals. The problem is that farm animals are very inefficient converters of nutrients. Only about 10% of what we feed to animals ever comes back to us as food. This agricultural fact of life is one of the main driving forces behind the problem of global hunger. According to Professor David Pimentel of Cornell University, “if America alone took the food currently fed to farm animals in the United States, we would have food enough to feed an extra 800 million people, the entirety of the world’s hungry, and we could do it without plowing even one extra acre of farm land.” The Global Hunger Alliance says that “eating plant-based foods offer the most safe, sustainable, and cost-effective methods of ending hunger and malnutrition.” Therefore, following a vegetarian diet can give the gift of life to the world’s hungry.
We also give by being members and supporters of Vegetarians of Washington. Vegetarians of Washington gives vital information to the community through our nutrition and cooking classes, our books and magazines and especially through Vegfest. Vegfest provides an easy way for thousands of people to taste delicious vegetarian food, to see cooking demonstrations from well-known chefs and cookbook authors, and to learn from our doctors and dietitians about the benefits of a vegetarian diet.
We also give to each other by providing a genuinely warm and friendly environment at our monthly dining events, where everyone can feel comfortable and supported in their food choices. And remember that in giving, we also receive. We receive healthy food for our bodies, nourishment for our spirits, friendship and the satisfaction of knowing that we are making the world and our community a better place.