By Stan Maddux
What would happen to cows if everyone ate only vegetables? That was among points argued by northwest Indiana high school students debating if all humanity should become vegetarian.
One student, Anna Lavalley, wondered if farm animals would become extinct if there were no other purpose for them. “What would the world do with all of this livestock?” asked Lavalley, a junior at Valparaiso High School.
Her debate team argued for a diet that includes meat, fish and poultry against the all-vegetable consumption squad from Chesterton High School at the Porter County Administration Building in Valparaiso recently. It was the 11th annual debate hosted by the Valparaiso Chain of Lakes Watershed Group to help raise awareness of issues that impact the environment.
VCLWG President Walt Breitinger says the students did an outstanding job researching and delivering the pluses and minuses of an all-vegetarian society. “They came across as very knowledgeable, and they seemed very sincere,” Breitinger says.
Give and take
Grace Whah, a CHS junior, said savings in health care costs in the U.S. alone would be in the billions from dramatic reductions in heart disease, stroke and cancer linked to meat consumption. She cited a study in Germany that concluded consumption of meat increases the risk of stroke by 47%.
The opposing side noted that research shows a diet of less meat or leaner cuts, versus a diet of no meat, lowers medical risk and even improves health. Eliminating meat all together would cause skyrocketing unemployment from job losses tied to meat, fish and poultry production.
The team siding against meat said job losses would be replaced with positions generated from higher demand for vegetables. Transitioning away from meat would likely be gradual.
“If a consumer changes to mainly plants, companies will change to what the consumer wants. Companies will lose money if they don’t adapt,’’ said Bella Auricchio, a CHS sophomore.
The Chesterton team argued that going meatless would mean a healthier planet because livestock waste-tainted stormwater would no longer pollute water, and methane from cows would be eliminated as a source of greenhouse emissions. Pro-meat students argued global warming could actually worsen from ranchers forced out of business putting land not ideal for raising crops into oil and other fossil fuel production.
Other cited drawbacks of a vegetarian planet included poorer health from human deficiencies in protein and other nutrients in meat. “If B-12 levels are just slightly lower than they should be, you may have symptoms such as poor memory, depression and fatigue,’’ said Elli Bezotte, a VHS senior.
2 sides of coin
Azeez Lakhani, a CHS senior, argued that taking dietary supplements would make up for any loss of meat-derived nutrients. Bezotte argued that supplements would be out of reach for the poor.
No winners were declared in the competition. But many of the 100 people in attendance cringed at the thought of not having a steak or some other meat. Breitinger said the topic was chosen because health, the economy and animal rights linked to the condition of the Earth are major issues that appear to be gaining attention.
“More people seem to be concerned for health and environmental reasons, and often the counterargument about the economy crops up,” he said. The watershed group also works to support the environment in other ways, such as monitoring pollution and promoting recycling.
Maddux writes from South Bend, Ind.