General Question

nebule's avatar

What would happen if everyone in the world went vegetarian tomorrow?

Asked by nebule (16452points) April 23rd, 2009
49 responses
“Great Question” (4points)

What would the consequences be? Economic, environmental, political, socially etc

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Pcrecords's avatar

Well let’s imagine it’s not just a whim or a phase they’re going through.

The consequences would be huge, naturally agriculture would shift massively, great amounts of land would have to be handed over to crop farming, I’d imagine cattle would be slaughtered as soon as possible, if no one wants to eat them no ones gonna pay to feed them or let them take up land.

The fields will need ploughing, so that might bring in jobs for the unemployed fisherman.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Well probably meat animals like pigs and sheep would be looking at extinction. If people were not eating milk or eggs then cattle and chicken could be added to the list. Fish would probably do quite well out if it though.

Pcrecords's avatar

Pigs would survive for the medical industry, sheep would still be used for wool probably.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

The overpopulation of some species would require culling.. only instead of having them for food… I guess we’d just be killing them.

dynamicduo's avatar

There would not be enough vegetables to sustain everyone, first off, nor would there be enough to last for the time between tomorrow and in a few months when the now large number of farmers collect their first massive harvest, so there would likely be food riots and deaths unless the government took over all food distribution and rationed everything out to people.

What would we do with the hundreds of thousands of live animals? They are domesticated, if they are let free they will become fodder for other preying animals like wolves, potentially increasing their numbers or violent tendencies during subsequent years due to an abundance of nutrition. What would all the farmers do, start farming vegetables? Not all farmers know or want to do that. This also requires much more land, which needs to be prepared, etc. If America suddenly went vegetarian, I would expect them to invade Canada or Mexico for its suitable growing land.

Vegetarian also stands to be defined here. Does this mean no meat derivative products? There are a lot of those in many things, even jello is animal hooves. I would think it would be more likely that people would go vegan instead of vegetarian, to totally cut animal consumption from their lives versus just not eating meat and continuing to raise and use animals. So now the leather industry is affected, amongst all others who use animals for byproducts. No more horse glue, non-artificial paintbrushes, etc.

I am of course interested in how everyone just suddenly becomes a vegetarian, as the method for this could result in a lot of different behaviours. For instance, if it was a government forced policy and people didn’t want to become vegetarians, there would be riots, looting, huge numbers of people leaving the country, maybe even escalating levels of violence depending on how these events were treated. In the same thought, if it were forced on people, there would be resistance groups, underground meat smuggling, and a world of people who don’t like being oppressed.

I think the secondary effects from this happening are quite large as well. People leaving the country for other less dictatorial countries means a lot of quitting people from all areas. People simply needing to become veggie farmers to keep up with the demand would have a similar effect. Perhaps the number of job opportunities would lower unemployment, but I think the massive number of people leaving (if they were allowed to leave, that is) would be substantial enough to cause a bump.

Edit: I just can’t see the entire world doing this. We already deal with starvation issues now when we do eat meat, we’d be dealing with way more if only America went vegetarian, let alone the entire world. Plus it’s a huge deprivation of freedom, and this cannot be ignored, I can’t see how every country would be persuaded to do this…

Randy's avatar

Well my employer would be able to make parts for all the tractors and other equipment and I would get back my normal shift and my normal pay! Damn recession

BookReader's avatar

…our diets would change as would our economy- reshuffling, environment- drastically, politics- not much, society- not much change at all…

…all in all, not much difference at all… learning how to become one with another and ultimately with our universe would be required for significant change…

gooch's avatar

A huge population shift would occur.

Harp's avatar

The economic consequences of abruptly shutting down any large industry would be huge. But as industries go, the meat industry is not especially labor intensive. In the US, a large number of those involved in meat processing are, in fact, undocumented aliens. The farmers and ranchers who currently raise livestock actually represent not very many individuals, and many of these already do plant-based agriculture as well.

In considering the impact this would have on the food supply, I disagree that it would result in an immediate shortage of food. In fact, I think the opposite would be true. 15 pounds of grain go into producing each pound of beef. Huge amounts of the world’s grain and soy crop are currently being converted into a much smaller amount of animal protein. Rather than having less to eat, we would suddenly find that we are awash in food.

Environmentally, the effect would be positive. Large-scale farming is very hard on the ecosystem, and we do much more of it to keep livestock fed than we would do to keep just humans fed. Enormous amounts of water are used in growing the crops used for livestock feed. The fertilizers and pesticides used on those crops are a major source of water pollution. Tremendous amounts of greenhouse gasses are also generated.

Haroot's avatar

Not to mention all the meat currently in stock at grocery stores and whatnot would go to waste.

Harp's avatar

Here’s an interesting look at the carbon footprint of meat consumption. Apparently 19kg of CO2 are produced for every 1kg of beef that reaches market. And that doesn’t even take into account the copious amounts of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas, generated by the cows themselves.

blueknight73's avatar

every cow you passed would have a smile

GoldieAV16's avatar

That’s what I thought, blueknight. Those happy cows in CA would be even happier!

Strauss's avatar

I think there would probably be a shift from agri-business to home and community gardens.

lataylor's avatar

There would be a huge increase in Vitamin B12 and iron deficiency initially, then everyone would take supplements.

exitnirvana's avatar

…sheesh, what a nightmare.

Harp's avatar

@exitnirvana I guess it’s all relative. To me, a bean and rice and guacamole burrito is a sweet dream. This is the nightmare.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Social Upheaval. I know that’s true because I’d be causing it myself. Many cultures traditionally eat meat (game meat typically but some cultures are agricultural) and you cannot simply say, hey we think it’s “wrong” so screw your culture. I think many cultural communities would be pissed putting it simply.

Just want to note that I don’t have anything wrong with vegetarianism at all and I enjoy vegetarian food.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Harp I bet that is for farmed meat. They should have a side by side comparison of farmed meat vs. game meat. I am not a fan of farmed meat (although I’m not vegetarian) and understand it is nasty for our environment. I’d like to see a switch to more natural meat sources (for those who do eat meat that is).

exitnirvana's avatar

@Harp that burrito does sound delicious despite the fact that it was coupled with slaughterhouse footage…

The nightmare to me would be the uneccesary slaughter of livestock for the sake of population control. I think its one thing to kill an animal if one intends on using it, its quite wasteful and cruel to kill an animal just because its taking up space.

@redpowerlady, yeah that is commercial. And it is certainly both disgusting and depressing. Unfortunately it is an aspect of human society that has taken place for decades, not that that condones its activity. HOWEVER, not all slaughterhouses are like what was seen in the video, and some people still raise and slaughter their own livestock. But that’s not something that everyone can do this day in age.

Garebo's avatar

I would have bad gas.

Pcrecords's avatar

Hang on… Are my cats going vegetarian too? They won’t be happy. At least in the short term all those leftovers in fridges could be used to feed them, someones gonna have to think about zoo animals feed too.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

We’d have less obese people and less people die from heart or high cholesterol complications. People can stop rioting once they realize that less of us are suffering from these diseases and we are healthier in general. There is no reason that we have to eat meat to survive, so that wouldn’t be an issue. Yes, there would be an immediate problem of what to do with all of the cows and chickens and pigs that are raised for meat, but this immediate problem is no match to the total amount of suffering that will continue to exist if the meat industry continues.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

@Pcrecords I don’t think the moderator was referring to carnivorous animals. Animals that are designed to eat only meat should still do so. As for feeding zoo animals, they shouldn’t be in captivity in the first place. This “problem” you mention is one we would have created ourselves. They should be placed back into the wild if at all possible. Humans are omnivores, but built more like herbivores than carnivores if you want to get specific. The point is that humans can thrive on plant food alone, so the slaughtering of animals for food is needless.

Darwin's avatar

Gary Larson had some thoughts on that.

RedPowerLady's avatar


The point is that humans can thrive on plant food alone, so the slaughtering of animals for food is needless.

I really don’t understand the argument you are posing and honestly never had understood it. I don’t oppose vegetarianism and in fact I live in a city where probably half our tenants are vegetarian. However I just don’t get the argument. This is likely because I am from a culture that has BOTH traditionally ate meat and respected the animals it comes from. So are you stating that your beliefs about eating meat are more important than my culture that is age old and still respects animals? I suppose I don’t understand how people can believe that eating meat is inhumane in all circumstances. I understand it is true for cows and well meat distributed on the corporate level. But I do not understand how it is true when done traditionally. Now I am just curious what you think of this and am not being judgmental or critical. I really am curious.

Darwin's avatar

I suspect that if we all return to raising or hunting all of our meat we will begin to understand the true cost of it and thus will value it appropriately.

I chose to raise a pig for meat when I was in graduate school and discovered that I need to not waste a scrap of it. The animal has given up its life for my needs so I should value the meat highly.

I do eat meat but much less than many Americans, and I try never, ever to waste it.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Darwin I believe the same as you. The more that animal is a part of our life (and not far removed from like being slaughtered by someone else and sold in a grocery store) the more we respect the animal and the meat it gives us and the sacrifice it provides us.

dynamicduo's avatar

Just because we can survive only on plants doesn’t mean we should. I enjoy eating meat, hence I eat meat. It is not needless to me as I have a need for meat through my desires.

As I have said in other threads, I intend to become a farmer such that I will provide a great life to the animals under my care, and I will value their contributions to me and my family in return. Even now though, as a simple consumer buying farmed meat, I accept that my meat is not farmed in the best manner possible, and as a consequence I don’t often eat full steaks and I often use other bits of the animals that others ignore. Pretty much the same thing @Darwin says.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Just because we can survive only on plants doesn’t mean we should.

Great way to put it!

Pcrecords's avatar

@BBSDTfamily hello, i appreciate your argument and i think you pose an ideal world situation. I was merely answering the question posed. in a way by that response i was questioning my own response too (we all went off on a gosh there will be no need for food animals to be bred) and it suddenly occurred that obviously other creatures would still need to eat flesh.

i take your point about Zoo’s and i agree on the whole captivity is bad, i do think however that breeding programes have helped animals who face extinction in the wild (again not their fault but ours)

itis interesting that our entire physical makeup seems designed to eat a herbivore diet and somewhere in our evolution we have chosen to take to meat, its possibly been one of the steps we took towards convenience… high doses of protein and fats which lives on to this day in fast foods, and comfort foods.

Darwin's avatar

@Pcrecords – Actually, our teeth say we should be eating both. We have the same sort of teeth that pigs do, designed for masticating both plant and animal matter. And as far back as the fossil record goes for humans and human-like creatures, the teeth have stayed the same.

In addition, our intestines aren’t long enough to be designed for a purely plant-based diet, yet aren’t as short as found in organisms with a strictly carnivorous diet, and the distribution of the cell types that make up our intestines is not that of plant eaters.

We also don’t have any sort of “fermentation chamber” such as the first stomach of a cow or the hindgut of a horse. To break down cellulose in plants you need that fermentation step.

We are designed to be opportunistic feeders. That is, we are built to eat anything we can get our hands (and teeth) on. We can choose to eat only plants, but we aren’t designed to do so.

If you don’t believe me, this is a nice discussion of the subject.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Darwin Good Answer.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

@RedPowerLady I’ll try to explain a little better… I understand what you mean about respecting animals and it being a part of your culture to also eat them. Here is my point explained a little further: Since our bodies are able to live without any animal by-product (meaning there is nothing our body needs that only comes from animals), we don’t need to eat meat in order to live. It is not a necessity because we can bypass meat our whole lives and still live perfectly fine. Therefore, it is a choice that people make, not a need. This means that if everyone decided to quit eating meat, millions of animals would not be slaughtered each year for their meat. Yes there are small farms that let cows graze lazily in a pasture and kill one cow a year or so to feed their family. But the truth is the vast majority of animal products sold in stores are mass produced by artificial insemination, prodded around like objects instead of animals that can feel pain and fear as we do, and never live a day in their lives as they would naturally. They are bred to make money by dying and are never shown any of the respect that you mentioned. And the laws that govern factory farming practices are so grossly inhumane. Do you know how pigs and cows are slaughtered? I know first-hand that it is disturbing, and the animals are completely aware of what is happening and are scared, and many, many instances are in pain during the long process. Do I think eating animals at all is just absolutely terrible of humans? No. I eat some animals myself. I eat deer if my husband shoots it (because he only makes clean, kill shots and is an ethical hunter who shows respect for the animals he takes and only kills what we can eat.), and I will sometimes eat chickens because I do not have as much compassion for them (because they do not have the capacity to love like pigs and cows for example, they do not care for their young, etc.). My problem is with factory farming. The behind-the-scenes facts are very grotesque and disturb me greatly.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@BBSDTfamily I agree that factory farming is horrible and nasty and wrong. I think though that many people would get their point across to a wider population if they kept on that point instead of focusing on other points. For example when someone talks to me about these issues I get turned off quickly when they start talking about how eating meat is wrong. It clearly is not wrong if it is done respectfully. To be honest the argument that we don’t need to eat meat turns me off as well. You mean we don’t need to eat meat physically. I’m not sure I agree with that statement either but the statement itself ignores cultural perspectives. What I think should happens is people focusing on the getting rid of factory farms WHILE supporting alternative meat eating options. That way people (this is not including myself) who are turned off by the idea of vegetarianism understand that others are more concerned about factory farming than turning other people into vegetarians or ignoring other cultures.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

@RedPowerLady Different points turn different people on to and off of vegetarianism. My main problem is with factory farming so I concentrate on that, but many people have a problem with eating meat in general. There are all different extremes. I don’t see how you or anyone can disagree that we don’t need meat… I mean you may feel like you need it because it makes you happy, you enjoy it, etc. But the truth is that there is no minerals, vitamins, or anything else that our body needs to survive that we can only get from animal products. So it is a fact that we do not need to eat meat in order to survive, not an opinion.

Darwin's avatar

@BBSDTfamily : But strict vegetarians always need to be aware of their nutritional state, because it is easier and simpler to get certain nutrients, such as protein, from meat. Our bodies were designed to eat some meat, not great, huge, honking chunks of steak, but about 4 to 6 ounces a day.

So we can compensate for not eating meat, but strictly speaking we should eat a small amount of meat (or animal protein such as eggs) daily.

And yes, I know we can get complete protein by eating rice and beans together, but the fact that beans produce a great deal of intestinal gas shows that we aren’t really designed to live on that exclusively.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

@Darwin You’re right, it is more convenient to eat meat, which is why it is done. Sure vegans must be careful what they eat and watch their diet, but doesn’t everyone need to be careful what they eat and watch their diet? If we only need 4–6oz. a day according to you, then we are still killing way too many animals. We could subsist from cutting out “killed” meat all together and just eat some eggs for breakfast. And I still believe that since humans have the option of choosing to not support slaughtering animals in factory farms, we should. Right is right, whether it is convenient or not.

Darwin's avatar

Eating meat is not wrong. It is what we and many other organisms are designed to do.

Factory farming is wrong. It is unnecessarily cruel and also degrades the environment.

Solution: Only purchase humanely raised and butchered animals, even if it means you need to raise and butcher them yourself, only purchase what you are actually going to eat, and never waste a scrap of meat.

Non-solution: Loudly shouting that eating meat is wrong and thus alienating folks around you and causing them to tune out.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I don’t see how you or anyone can disagree that we don’t need meat…

I absolutely do not disagree with that. As I have said I completely respect vegetarians. What I don’t agree with is when people actively try and convert others to their dietary habits. Especially when they are not looking at the bigger picture. What I am saying is that we would get much farther if we didn’t attempt to force facts about vegetarianism and how much we need or need not eat meat. Instead we focus on facts of animal abuse and how un-nutritious and environmentally deprevational factory farming is. If that ever becomes established then, if you still want to, you can move on to other motives.

I mean you may feel like you need it because it makes you happy, you enjoy it, etc. But the truth is that there is no minerals, vitamins, or anything else that our body needs to survive that we can only get from animal products. So it is a fact that we do not need to eat meat in order to survive, not an opinion.

What I said is that there is another component to eating meat. And it is not entirely based on our physical body. First let me make an aside. Our physical bodies can need meat. For example. Native people have horribly high rates of diabetes and other health problems (this is due to forcing them to eat foods that were not part of their lifestyle and also the poverty rates in Native communities). Recently there have been studies done where they asked Native people to convert to their traditional diets. And there have been Amazing results. People have completely turned their diabetes around by doing this. Most of these traditional diets do include game meat or fish. They also include roots, berries, etc… In this circumstance, because the bodies were in such a state of deprevation, it was returning to a wholesome traditional diet that helped people out. Because the bodies were so deprived if they would have returned to only veggies it would not have caused such a drastic shift (yes a more positive one), it is the wholeness of the diet that helped. There is a lot of science to this. They have actually found that it is more beneficial if people return a specific traditional diet. For examples Navajos don’t return to a Lakota diet but to a Navajo diet. Anyhow that is one attempt at explaining how we may need meat.

Now to get to my real point. And that is that there is more to eating meat than just physical need (or lack thereof). The consumption of meat has to do with culture. There are a ton of cultural practices that revolve around eating meat. Most of them are quite amazing and spiritual. Like we discussed before many of them have to do with respecting the animal and Earth. It gives people a basis to understand how everything is connected and to understand what sacrifice is really about and how we should respect all living things. But there was and I would argue, there still is, a need for other parts of animals as well. Such as hide. These components are an integral part of many cultures. If you remove them and say, it’s not okay to kill an animal anymore, you are essentially breaking apart the culture. This has been done before in many ways so we know how devastating it can be. By doing this a person is tearing at people’s ceremonies and spiritual beliefs. And how many times have cultures been torn apart due to what we believe is right at the time? So I’m not sure I explained it altogether clearly but my point is that animals are not needed only for meat consumption physically. It is part of ceremony. I understand that to many people today the word ceremony means little. But most cultures around the world rely on ceremony as a necessary part of their vitality. And most of these ceremonies revolve around the respect for Earth, and all life, and sacrifice. I know every time we eat meat at a community gathering we say a prayer for the animals who sacrificed themselves so that we could survive. You know when it comes to eating meat traditionally we do a lot so that these animals can survive to. It is “the circle of life” however cliche that may sound.

Pcrecords's avatar

cheers @Darwin good to learn, i was always told that the teeth in particular were only for a herbivore diet and developed (along with your FANTASTIC, theory of evolution) as we took to meat.

thanks again though, i’ve given you a great answer thingy

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i guess we would be like, “shit. what are we going to do with the billions of animals we overbreed and shoot up with hormones?”. eventually, after all of the excess animals bred only to eat died off, we would actually have a steady population of animals – i don’t know why a few people are assuming that the cow population would go extinct. that sounds quite ridiculous and unfounded to me.
the environment would probably improve, as all of the issues related to raising animals would be gone. though of course there are plenty of problems with agriculture too.

some people wouldn’t be able to adjust – not everyone’s body is capable of accommodating to a vegetarian diet.

a lot of people would lose their jobs, although i’m sure they could simply transfer over to planting, as the need for fruits/veggies/wheat/etc would be just as high as the decrease in need for meat.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

The rest of you can go vegetarian if you like, not me, I’ll raise my own meat and butcher to keep eating it. Rabbits are a great source of animal protein, and much easier to clean and prepare than chickens. Rabbits easily reproduce, and provide a great form of natural fertilizer for growing plants. Other small game animals can be raised as food as well. I hear guinea pig is pretty yummy.

Too many vegetarians want to enforce their plant based lifestyle upon others due to some guilt trip. I was raised in an environment of fishing, hunting and providing meat for oneself. I have no qualms about using animals as food. If the US suddenly goes all vegetarian, I’m moving to Saskatchewan, Ontario or Manitoba, where there are fewer vegetarians and more people that like to hunt and fish. You can keep your tofu and bean sprouts.

Ciaraa's avatar

There would be less deaths caused by hypertension, obesity, coronary artery disease, certain kinds of cancer and diabetes While 750 million people go to bed hungry every night, one-third of the world’s grain is fed to farmed animals. A typical Western meat-based diet can only feed 2.5 billion people: a plant-based diet will feed every one of us. Rainforests are cleared for grazing; methane from livestock causes global warming; soil is eroded by cattle; slurry poisons waterways; and the seas are laid to waste by overfishing. The global appetite for meat and the industrial techniques of the meat industry are destroying the Earth. Less animals would get slaughtered (:

MomX2's avatar

I just stumbled upon this site looking for nutrition info. My child has just been diagnosed with an eating disorder and now I understand why. He is afraid to eat just about anything because the fanatics in this world are sending the adolescent children such mixed messages. At his age he needs a balanced diet including meat. He is forming the bones and the organs that he will need to support the 40 and 50 year old man I hope he lives to be. If he continues the way he is he will have weak bones and an undeveloped 14 year old heart trying to pump blood through the body of a 40 year old man and will go in to cardiac arrest. Call me crazy but I would glady trade the lives of a few cows and those chickens that evidently are not very careing for my son’s life. You are replacing the fashion industry in creating a new generation of eating disorder plagued youth.

nebule's avatar

@MomX2 thank you xxx nice to hear from you xxx I am not a fanatic at all and a lot of people here are not either but they have a lot to give..I hope you stick around to find support and strength xxx

Aeph's avatar

The population of these animals will grow. they will get too large and we’ll have to slaughter them anyway. And that’s not even talking about it’s other effects, which are pretty much covered here.

Cuss's avatar

I hear all this talk about how healthy being a Vegetarian is, but in my own experience the largest number of food allergies are vegetable product related, peanut, gluten containing grains, strawberries, tomatoes…the list goes on. I’m in my 70s and healthier and more physically fit than any of the Vegans or Vegetarians that I’m acquainted with, and my Mom used to cook our fried eggs in bacon grease(you can’t find eggs that good anymore). As for obesity, that is caused by overeating and a lack of exercise. A real simple way to cover both bases is, when you have had enough to eat, stop, place both hands firmly on the edge of the tabletop and push yourself away from the table, then take a walk around the block.

c1c2c3c4c's avatar

death, death everywhere as we all fight over the last hamburger on earth. afterword’s a plague springs up taking advantage of our weakened immune systems and the zombie apocalypse begins, BRAINS!!

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