It’s everywhere – a part of our breakfast, lunch, and especially dinner. Meat. Fellow Americans, we just can’t quit it. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spent nearly $1,100 dollars on meat, fish, poultry, and eggs in 2012, that’s nearly 30 percent of our grocery bills.
You know who doesn’t have that hefty tab? Vegetarians, who make up about 5 percent of the U.S. population. While they still eat dairy and eggs, they’re not eating nearly 200 pounds of meat a year, like the rest of us.
So what if we all became vegetarian? Would we be healthier, wealthier, and wiser?
“A plant based diet is a great idea for almost everyone, but complete elimination leads to other substitutions,” says Rebecca Solomon, the Director of Clinical Nutrition at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
Solomon says that many new-vegetarians reach for more processed foods that are high in sugar and low in nutrients. She says one of the biggest pitfalls for newly proclaimed vegetarians is an American favorite, pizza.
“I’ve seen people just absolutely neglect their calcium needs, neglect their protein needs and get extremely carb focused because that tends to be the easiest and quickest thing to get when you’re not eating any kind of meat products,” Solomon added.
If we became a meatless nation, a good number of us may be out of a job. The USDA Economic Research Services says it takes about 1.5 million people to produce the country’s food supply; about 32 percent work in the meat industry, while 11 percent handle fruits and vegetables. That means, the paychecks of some half-a-million Americans could be in jeopardy if we push away the pork chops.
Conventional wisdom be damned; a vegetarian nation would NOT eliminate livestock from our country’s farmlands.
“They are an integral part of our agricultural system, manure is important to our fertilization system,” says Jack Algiere, four-season farm director at (link to site) Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture just outside New York City. He explained that although they wouldn’t be on our plates, livestock would still be providing milk, eggs and yes, manure to our food productions.
But even if we did have the desire/willpower to become vegetarian, the bigger question might be whether we could even pull it off. As a nation, here’s what we’re currently consuming for fruits and vegetables:
-79 billion pounds of fruit
-109 billion pounds of vegetables
-59 million pounds of grains
About 50 percent of our fruits are imported, along with 23 percent of our vegetables, so what would happen if we suddenly needed to up our fruit and veggie stockpiles? Watch, ‘What If?”!