I stopped eating animals during the summer of 1972. I think it fair to say that it's had a positive effect so far, and that the ramifications of my life choices will have incalculable future benefit. Unfortunately, I'm only 1 six billonth of the problems associated with having so many people on the planet.
Depending on where you look, figures on meat consumption in America can differ a little. But here's a fairly average report:
Each year, the average American eats about 110 lbs of red meat, including 62.4 lbs of beef and 46.5 lbs of pork. The average American eats 16.1 lbs of fish and shellfish and 32.7 lbs of eggs, and 63 lbs of chicken.
The average American eats about 31.4 lbs of cheese each year and drinks about 181 lbs of milk.
Cows going to slaughter weigh on average 900 to 1400 lbs. According to thebeefsite.com, "... suppose that an animal delivered to the packing plant weighs 1300 pounds. After being killed, the hide, head, feet and gut are removed. The carcass then weighs 767 pounds. The dressing percent of this animal would be 767 divided by 1300 multiplied by 100 equaling 59 percent. This '59 percent' represents the meat and skeletal portion of an animal compared to its live weight."
But then, the meat has to be cut from the bone. Roughly speaking, the weight of the meat from a cow, after cut up and made ready to sell at the grocery store is about half the weight of the live cow.
So, a little arithmetic: If the average American eats about 62.4 lb. of beef a year, and that is equivalent to about (62.4 lb. X 2) 124.8 lbs of live cow, then, the average American eats about 9% of a cow each year, assuming the average cow sent to slaughter weighs about 1150 lb (900 lb + 1400 lb / 2).
Because I stopped eating animals in 1972, it means that as of today, I have saved the lives of somewhere in the neighborhood of (40yrs X 9% of a cow) 3.6 cows, or about 4,992 lbs of beef.
According to National Geographic, that 4,992 lbs of beef I didn't eat, saved 8,980,608 gallons of water.
Using similarly Internet-based cobbled together figures like these: "With a market weight of 250 pounds and yield of 73.6 percent, the typical hog will a produce a 184-pound carcass. The carcass will yield approximately 140 pounds of pork and 44 pounds of skin, fat, and bone," I figure I've saved about one third of a pig's life a year, or 1860 lbs of pig overall, or about, 7.44 pigs. Not eating these pigs also saved 1,071,360 gallons of water.
I saved approximately 720 chickens and in so doing saved an additional 336,960 gallons of water.
By not drinking any milk, I saved an additional 5,491,367,619 gallons of water and about three fourths of a dairy cow. The cheese I didn't eat probably brought that up to more than a whole cow and adds in about another 700,000 gallons of water.
By not eating my 32.7 lbs of eggs every year, and figuring that the average egg weighs about two ounces, I didn't eat (32.7 X 16 / 2) about 261.6 eggs a year, or 10,464 over 40 years, and in the process, saved about 554,592 gallons of water and about 35 chickens.
This means then, that in the 40 years I've been a vegan, I've saved almost 5 cows, 7 pigs, 755 chickens, and about 6 billion gallons of water. And this is a conservative estimate that doesn't include any of the other costs associated with meat and animal by-product production.
What's more, because I decided a very long time ago that the major cause of most environmental problems is the number of people on the planet, I elected not to have any children. Assuming just for a moment that I had been an average American and had my two average children who hadn't been vegan, then by not having them, I also saved all the above times 2, and if each of them had 2 average kids, it would be that number of saved animals and water times 4, or, 42 billion gallons.
It's a small thing to some perhaps, but to the unnamed and abstract 5 cows, 7 pigs, and 755 chickens who would otherwise have been killed so that I could dine on their flesh, it probably isn't.