How Much Rainforest Do You Eat?

Although vegetarians and vegans all have the avoidance of meat eating in common, their reasons for eschewing animal products are diverse. After all, in addition to the health benefits from abstaining from meat, many are motivated by animal suffering and certainly there are compelling environmental reasons. Meat-free followers of Dr. Fuhrman obviously do it for health reasons or a combination of health reasons and other motivations. I respect my father for providing information on nutrition and nutrition alone, without animal welfare or environmental motivations, as that is not his field of expertise.

However, I think it would be wonderful, perhaps even a necessity, if everyone understood the powerful connection our own health has with the health of the planet and the animals we share it with. My last post discussed the relationship between meat production, global warming, and world hunger. I learned much of this information at a global warming conference conducted by the World Preservation Foundation based in London. Let’s all open our eyes to the possibility here that this information may be critical for all of us.Rainforest.  Flickr: Webbaliah

It is no secret that the rainforests of the Earth are a truly magical, natural wonder. It also happens to be a place that we are massively, rapidly, and irreversibly destroying. The rainforest is home to intricate ecosystems and more unique plants and animal species than anywhere else in the world.

Amazingly, two-thirds of all known plant and animal species are found in the rainforest while rainforests themselves cover just 2 percent of the Earth’s surface. Not only are rainforests home to countless plants and animals, but they are literally the “lungs of the Earth”. Rainforests are the single greatest terrestrial source of the oxygen in the air that we breathe. Keep this information in mind while reading the following statistics about how quickly we are destroying it to meet global demands for meat:

  1. We are currently facing one of the greatest mass extinctions ever to occur on Earth. Over 30 percent of the biodiversity on this planet has been lost since 1970. In the tropics, we’ve already lost over 60 percent of its biodiversity. A study conducted by the United Nations found that the rate of current plant and animal extinctions is over 1000 times the natural rate of extinction. This is by no means a natural phenomenon. The majority of these extinctions are due to abolition of the rainforest in order to grow soy and corn to feed livestock.
  2. Brazil is the largest beef industry in the world; the country produces roughly 7 million metric tons of beef every year from a total population of 165 million cattle.
  3. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 91 percent of the Amazon rainforest that has been destroyed since 1970 can be attributed to cattle raising, including the growing of feed crops
  4. Rampant deforestation for cattle-raising is becoming popular in Central America. Since 1960, more than 25 percent of the area’s rainforests have been cleared for pastures alone.
  5. The United States is the largest beef importer in the world, importing beef from Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and most recently, Costa Rica. Many US livestock companies are reported to have purchased tracks of rainforest in Costa Rica for cattle-raising, which is sold back as beef to the United States.
  6. The Cerrado, or Brazilian Savannah, is home to 5% of global biodiversity, but is being rapidly converted into farmland used to produce soy to feed agricultural animals. 400 square kilometers of the Cerrado is cut down each year to meet beef demands in the UK alone.
  7. Overstocking and overgrazing leaves the land depleted of most nutrients, which accelerates desertification. Chopping down the irreplaceable and wonderfully gargantuan rainforest trees results in the abolition of our huge carbon dioxide conversion tank and the world’s primary oxygen supply.
  8. If global warming rates continue as they currently are, within a few decades the earth’s temperature will rise 3.5 degrees C. This will be enough to complete destroy the Amazon Rainforest and further accelerate the rate of global warming, the melting of the ice caps and the rise of sea level, obliterating costal human habitats.

For those of you who have commented, “I don’t believe in global warming.”
I wish you could have been there to see live satellite photos of thousands of square miles of the forest up in smoke, with huge clouds of black soot rising into the clouds. The amount of oxygen-producing forests that already have been decimated is clearly measurable and not a belief option. Why would one deny this exists, that humans contribute to it or that the ice masses are melting? It is not a myth that humans are destroying the natural habitats, and the species of plant life that are important for the health of our planet and that this, among other human activities, contributes to global warming.

I realize there are people who have an opposing view, but the increasing demands for meat-eating by formerly underdeveloped, highly populated nations, could dramatically increase the rate of destruction of the forest, over-utilize limited fresh water supplies, and dramatically add to pollution, in addition to increasing carbon dioxide and the gradual warming of the planet.

As I write this, I think of the movie Wall-E, in which the Earth became one big wasteland and the obese, lazy humans of the future have to move to a spaceship because planet Earth is no longer hospitable. I do not speak for my father, but as a young adult interested in the future of this world, clearly, saying no to meat-eating is a simple change that we can all make to protect the world’s precious natural resources. Maybe we’ll save a few human lives too in the process.

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Comments (15) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Molly - December 15, 2010 12:57 AM

Beautiful job, Talia. The environment was/is the reason I became a vegetarian in the first place, and then health reasons led me to veganism. It was only after more reading that I learned about the ethical reasons for veganism, which now holds equal motivation for me. That said, the health and future of our blue planet is easily the biggest crisis we will ever face, and the only one that really matters. Everything else is secondary if the future of our home is at stake. I wish more people could comprehend that. Thank you for your well-written article, and for standing up for the truth.

Destiny Champion - December 15, 2010 1:32 AM

I truly appreciate this insightful piece by Talia. I come to being vegan primarily for ethical reasons. Reasons that include human suffering along with animal suffering. Talia shows how the entire planet is suffering from the practice of eating animals. Twenty-eight years ago I gave up eating meat and it led me to a world of new tastes and experiences. Going vegetarian is not about what we give up, but rather about what we gain and what we give to our planet.

Katie Adams - December 15, 2010 8:06 AM

Your information on global warming and effects of meat eating on our planet are very interesting. I appreciate your concern especially from someone as young as you are. It's very honorable. I have one thing that I would ask of you. Please do not contribute to the stereotype of obese individuals being lazy. See this quote from your text, "the obese, lazy humans of the future. " If anything, many times an obese individual is in this circumstance because they have never stopped to consider themselves and has always taken care of everything else in families and never put themselves first. They are not the ones to take time to run to the gym, to reward themselves with "mani and pedis" or sit and have a relaxing meal with familly. They eat at the sink while doing the dishes, while running a load of laundry and picking up the toys in the living room....I don't think you intentionally made the remark...just be careful...thank you.

Grahame - December 15, 2010 8:58 AM

Arguing over whether global warming is a fact or not is a waste of time. The truth is (as you show in your excellent article) that we are destroying the only world we have, so let's stop arguing and start DOING something about it.

js - December 15, 2010 10:08 AM

Katie, I don't think she was making a comment about obese people in general. If you've seen the movie, the humans of the future are both obese AND lazy: they float around in automatic chairs and drink slurpies all day while robots do all the work. I haven't ever heard her make a comment in this blog implying that she thinks people with food issues in "real life" have them because of laziness... quite the opposite. (Full disclosure, I'm still chubby and I wasn't offended. :) )

David Griffin - December 15, 2010 11:07 AM

Beautiful post once again Talia. Very informative. I did not know that Costa Rica was next in our crosshairs - but I've visited there and the rain forests (and millions of species of plants and animals within) are absolutely breathtaking, and I can't imagine someone cutting down a even a single tree to raise more cattle. Extremely sad.

I want to point out to everyone that you don't HAVE to give up meat to avoid contributing to the rainforest destruction. My meat consumption is ALMOST zero - but when I do enjoy some meat, I try to make sure it comes from small-scale local sustainable farmers and not giant factory farms.

And WALL-E is a fantastic film!

Chuck Bluestein - December 15, 2010 11:14 AM

This is a great article. The rainforest has many healthy plant foods growing there in a pure environment that has been untouched by man. The natives there have to worry about snake bites and other things but the degenerative diseases are not much of a problem. There are companies that sell many healthy plant foods from the rainforest.

Charles, Prince of Wales has a whole crusade to save the rainforests. He said that destroying the rainforest will release more carbon dioxide than that from all the planes, ships and automobiles in the world. He even has commercials for it with celebrities: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbAYU98S08U

Michelle S. - December 15, 2010 2:23 PM

That was so well written that I had to comment to congratulate Ms. Fuhrman. Of course, I'm a member of the choir to whom she was preaching. Nonetheless, it's always a pleasure to read compelling information expertly communicated. Well done!

As an aside, my husband and myself after reading and rereading Eat to Live an embarrassing amount of times, and after years as vegans, will finally commit to the plan within the coming week. It's been a pleasure to read the posts (and excellent comments) on this blog. They've been extremely inspirational and motivational for me.

js - December 15, 2010 3:17 PM

After having defended you against another nitpicker regarding word choices, I do have to speak up on a separate point: I am not a "follower" of Dr. Fuhrman. I think he's right about a lot of things and therefore I put a lot of stock in what he says, but the cult of personality around here can be rather alienating (especially the fact that he seems to encourage it) and is one of the things that prevents me from sending more of my friends and family to articles on this web site. The person/brand is NOT as important as the message, and if made too much of can become an unnecessary obstacle to people who are just being introduced to these ideas.

Corrie - December 15, 2010 3:27 PM

"Arguing over whether global warming is a fact or not is a waste of time"...Agreed! However, that is because of developmental processes (psychological and moral) which will ALWAYS create the problem of a lack of consensus. Remember, in development everyone is born at square one - that includes psychological and moral worldviews.

Talia's points are articulated well and are spot on. However, the best way to move the conversation forward IMO is to talk about health as her father is doing. Demanding change on moral grounds will never work - people dig in their heels and are offended by someone suggesting they have a superior moral or ethical position. Yet, talking about health is the ultimate argument winner. After all, who in their right mind would stand up and say "I demand crappy health, feeling sick and big doctor bills!" No one. There is really no serious counter argument to making changes for better health.

The only counter arguments for better health are rather lame:

The cigarette argument - "Well, we've all gotta die someday and I'm gonna do it smoking." No one takes this person seriously, in fact this person has basically abandoned the argument altogether.

The freedom argument - "No one is going to infringe on my right to eat what I want." This argument is really a non-sequitur because advocating for health doesn't tell someone what to eat, just what is healthy and in what proportions.

Ultimately, the best way to get people to eat less meat, save the rain forests, and save the planet is to argue for better health. Unfortunately, it will be a glacially slow process. Talia, I love what your dad is doing. We can't have enough Dr. Fuhrmans out there right now.

RawGuru - December 15, 2010 5:56 PM

Very eloquent and well written piece! Your article really brings clarity to the situation. The part most shocking to me, that i didn't know, was that the US is the biggest importer of beef in the world. Seems totally crazy to me that this country would be buying plots of rainforest to raising cattle, and then selling the meat back to US consumers. People may be shocked to find out that their hamburger from a fast food chain is actually coming from cows in the amazon. I cannot wait until a time comes where the majority, not minority, of people are veg!

Barbara Whitney - December 16, 2010 3:45 PM

Thanks for a well-written article that adds another important dimension to our food choices.

mrsleny - January 27, 2011 4:52 PM

Please do not forget the rainforests on the other side of the world.

Borneo's rainforests are being razed for palm oil plantations and wood. Palm oil is used in 10% of products we buy at the supermarket ... in almost all processed foods.

Borneo is rich in biodiversity and is one of the only remaining habitats for the orang utan. Once the forests are gone, so are these majestic apes. I am lucky enough to have seen its beauty and wonders. I hope places like the Amazon and Borneo will not become merely places of myth in the next decades to come.

Mel - May 10, 2011 12:32 PM

Anyone who thinks they do not believe in global warming need only watch a Youtube video titled "The American Denial of Global Warming" by Dr. Naomi Oreskes. There are no legitimate scientists out there who deny it. Any scientists you might find denying it will inevitably (upon research) be found to have connections to the oil industry.

Phoenix Ephemeral - October 4, 2012 4:54 AM

Hi, thank you so much for all your insightful information on the rainforests and their destruction. I am a vegan and have never eaten meat in my life. All 4 of my syblings are healthy adults with successful carreers. I am trying to get the message accross on Facebook and to my friends of the effects a meat based diet on the environment. I am also very interested in anything about our rainforests. Please could you direct me to a helpful Facebook page that I could share info from?? Even Nat Geo is not very helpful in this dept on Facebook.any links to pages or people that could help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you - from Phoenix in South Africa

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