This year, 2018, celebrates my having been a vegetarian for 25 years, despite Mom occasionally sneaking me an egg roll in that first year, saying “it only has a little bit of pork in it.” I don’t miss meat at all. And much to my concerned relatives’ surprise – I haven’t died. Instead, I am relatively healthy and happy.
But in thinking about 25 years of going without fried chicken, I was just curious as to how much impact I’ve made as a vegetarian in the past 25 years, especially in terms of numbers of lives “saved,” or in some cases “prevented the raising of.” I was inspired by an article one of our members (Doug) posted yesterday in our FB discussion group Climate Steps that was an interview of famous marine biologist Sylvia Earle, about eating fish. (Message: don’t do it.)
So instead of cleaning my house tonight, I ran the numbers. I “saved” fewer lives than I thought for some categories (far fewer steers than I expected – really? I am the daughter of Texas cattle ranchers; I am quite surprised), but far more chickens than expected. Here’s the weird run down.
First, an average American eats 15.8 lbs of fish per year, 54 lbs of beef (in 2012 we used to eat more like 63 lbs a year), 50 lbs of pork, and 89 lbs of poultry (= mathematically smart hens and turkeys, btw) – based on 2016 data. That’s 1.5 times an average person’s weight that we consume. As a 5’5′ skinny to medium woman (I vary), I’d probably eat less than that, but then, pre-vegetarianism, I was also known to down 5 tacos and 2 sets of french fries in one meal.
However, much of what a fish, or a steer, or a pig, or a hen is can’t be eaten, so really, eating 1 lb of beef equals almost 3 lbs of steer. Here’s what happens between ‘alive’ and ‘eaten’:
- Steers weigh an average of 1200 lbs at slaughter, but only produce 490 lbs of boneless beef (though they do also provide materials such as leather, gelatin for our colorful Jello, and ingredients in fire extinguishers, lipstick, and tar roads.)
- A hog weighs ~250 lbs at slaughter, which equals 144 lbs of pork.
A hen is 5 lbs, of which 62% is meat parts, so 3 lbs is edible.
- And fish are so variable – anywhere from 1 lb for a small bass to 830 lbs for an average tuna. Their filleted weight ranges from 33% to 65% (if one factors in if they still have a head before they’re weighed).
Based on the math, (chug, chug, chug), I have over 25 years “prevented the raising, then killing of”
- 3 steers
- 9 hogs
- 718 chickens and turkeys (whoa)
…thus saving three hectares of rainforest in the Amazon from the steers at least (one steer per hectare, if the beef came from S. America – which most does), and if I was a hunter, I probably prevented the slaughtering of 718 wild birds.
But further, I have saved the lives of (thinking romantically in terms of pairs of fish):
- 4 sole (3.6 lbs)
- 2 mackerel (4 lbs)
- 2 perch (5.8 lbs)
- 2 bass (15 lbs)
- 2 carp (15 lbs)
- 2 haddock (20 lbs)
- 2 bream – no idea what this is (21 lbs)
- 2 trout (27 lbs)
- 4 snapper (28 lbs)
- 2 pike (34 lbs)
- 2 skipjack tuna (42 lbs)
- 2 mahi-mahi (49 lbs)
- 2 salmon (57 lbs)
- 4 cod (120 lbs)
Okay, great for me and for the animals; I had expected I had saved more lives, but really, I am happy to have not eaten 9 hogs.
Oh but hey, then there’s also the corn the cows eat and the fossil fuels to grow the corn and transport the cattle, the horrible by-catch thrown away from fishing, the fish fed to fish, and all sorts of other things to consider! So I am not just saving lives by being vegetarian, I am helping save the air we breathe, the habitat for animals, the watershed that provides us clean water. To attach a number for one of the most critical things in our world, climate change, being a vegetarian has saved 0.8 tonnes (0.9 U.S. tons) of C02 emitted per year.
So in 25 years, I have saved 20 tonnes of C02, which is a lot! Vegetarianism makes a huge climate impact (it’d make more if I was vegan).
Unfortunately, see the Carbon Calculator post to get depressed again; I emitted 20 tons of C02 flying for work last fall alone – flying internationally makes a huge, huge impact. Unbelievable. One semester of flying on 9 trips (7 for work) outdid 25 years of being vegetarian. I really am sad about that. (I bought offsets, but still!)
Also critical, you have to be careful what you eat being vegetarian/vegan, because monocultures of corn and soy are causing huge damage through the world, especially with soy plantations taking over S. America. One has to be diverse, eat local, eat organic, eat farm-grown.
I’ll just say that thank god meat tastes very weird to me now, and that I could never bring myself to eat an animal again, otherwise I’d be tempted to go for my favorite animal ever – shrimp.
So really, I have no regrets at all – there is excellent Thai, and Indian, and other great food out there. I have also prevented the torture of animals who live in factory farms in many cases, while eating only eggs raised from chickens like my parents raise.
And just think of how many little shrimp I’ve personally saved by not eating 15.8 lbs of fish a year – if all of that poundage were shrimp.
Yes – I did the math: 37,950 of those little gals and guys. Now I feel good again. 😊
- https://phys.org/newman/gfx/news/2012/carbonfootpr.jpg (for graph immediately above)
- www.eol.org (for fish weights via Google.)