As there are so many changes going on this site, I also wanted to continue talking about relevant topics to the green community including topics that not everyone in this community agrees on, one of those being what we should eat. There is still a lot of controversy among ‘green’ people of what the best way to live the ‘green’ life is. Here’s my take: I think everyone should do what is right for them and how much they can for the environment. And no matter what you decide, you should not be imposing it on anyone else.
I do want to discuss a topic that I’ve heard around for a while now and that has me intrigued. I still don’t know exactly what side of the discussion I sit on (so be kind) but I found it fascinating that people brought up this idea/topic. That idea is whether or not the vegan diet is more environmentally friendly than other diets/lifestyle choices.
There are so many opinions out there about the diet and every vegan has their reason for being on the it. The one thing that is (mostly) consistent is that they’re usually on the diet because they care about the animals that are being abused in today’s ‘practices’ of meat companies. And although I agree with them (those ‘undercover’ meat company videos are truly disgusting) I can’t help but feel that there are a few things that vegans may be skimming over when they suggest that the whole world needs to be vegan.
Now, I have quite a few friends that are vegan and I respect each and every one of them, but I think that everyone has to come to conclusions about their diet on their own terms. Everyone has different lifestyles and ways they grew up which impacts and affects their ideas and thoughts. And there are a few ‘issues’ that I have with the vegan diet.
The Vegan diet came to popularity in 1944 when Donald Watson co-founded the Vegan Society in England. Before then, vegans were few and far between although vegetarians were much more common. Watson wanted to make a clear distinction between vegetarians and vegans. I don’t have any problem with the idea of veganism or how it came about to be. What I am having difficulty with is that vegans are starting to say that if you really want to live an “eco-friendly” lifestyle then you have to commit to also be a vegan. There are plenty of Youtube videos out there that try to convince people of this exact fact. I’m not so convinced myself, but before we discuss my misgivings, let’s see the reasons why vegans think that the Vegan diet is environmentally friendly.
Reduce your greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2006, the UN released a report saying that the raising of animals for food produced the more emissions than all the cars combined in the world. While most people try to reduce their emissions by driving electric or hybrid cars, vegans advocate that the best way to reduce those emissions is simply to stop eating meat. Of course, this wouldn’t really work unless everyone stopped eating meat.
Depending of where you look, the statistics for how much water it takes to raise one pound of beef varies, but they are all in accord with one thing. It takes a lot, and just by eliminating meat from our diets, we can conserve the water on the planet for humanity.
Reduce destruction of ecological systems.
Because of how much land it requires to raise one cow, about 1.5 to 2 acres, it has been calculated that the livestock industry is the biggest reason for the deforestation. It’s responsible for 70% of the deforestation in the Amazon and livestock production takes up 30% of the entire Earth’s surface. Also, livestock eats a lot of the plants/vegetation that would otherwise be eaten by humans and their food takes up space on land that could be used to grow plants for humans. Also, all the deforestation has contributed to destruction of wildlife and endangered species.
Reduce the amount of chemicals and antibiotics.
We’ve all been aware of antibiotic-resist diseases lately and the fact that there have been a lot of studies showing that when people started eating organic food, they showed a significant drop in the amount of chemicals in their bodies. Farmers give lots of antibiotics to their livestock to keep them healthy and those transfer to us when we eat meat. Even fish have been shown to contain a handful of harmful chemicals. And to top it off, the amount of byproducts from livestock production has been found to pollute waterways and is another reason why veganism seems like the perfect diet for environmentally friendly folks.
The above reasons are all legitimate and help to prove why a vegan diet would help environmental sustainability. But I have a few issues that I feel like most vegans don’t think about when they advocate for the global implementation of veganism. Here’s a few:
What would happen to all the animals?
Vegans say that we should stop eating meat and animal by-products no matter what. But then what would happen to all of the animals currently on the Earth? They would still reproduce, would still be part of the ecosystem. They would quickly overtake us and overrun the Earth. And no, if we’re not eating them, we can’t kill them or stop their natural reproductive cycles. So what would we do with all those animals? Statistics seem to show that animals on a farm meant for meat only live 1/10 of their lives before they’re slaughtered which means that “in the wild” they would be around even longer before naturally dying.
What would happen to the plants?
As vegans, we would all be eating plants (basically). And so do the animals. We would ALL be eating plants and vegetation. See the problem there? With so many people and animals eating the same thing, it just seems logical that problems would arise very quickly. I know a lot of vegetarians/vegans speaking on this topic are saying that animals kept for meat are actually taking up a lot of the land that could be used for growing plants/vegetation for humans to eat if we were all vegan, but there’s a flipside to that. Those animals that you would now ‘free’ from being meat are still alive and they have to eat something too. They would, theoretically, eat more out of captivity than they would have on a farm.
What would happen to the economy?
As much as we don’t like to think so or even realize it is so, the economy is very much going to be affected if there was a law passed for humans to live vegan, or even vegetarian. Entire industries and companies would be felled with one blow. The dairy industry, beef industry, chicken industry, egg industry, turkey industry, cheese industry, goat, sheep, and possibly hundreds more would be closed down and hundreds of thousands if not millions of people would suddenly be without a job, a lifestyle. And what to say of all the other businesses that use those products in THEIR products? Bakeries that use whipped cream, milk and butter would go out of business or have to adapt (at great financial cost). Anyone here like yogurt? Or Mexican food? And what about industries such as the clothing industry that use animal by-products such as leather, fur, ivory or a variety of others? All those things would be no more or would be radically changed. And to top it all of, I’m quite positive that the stock market would crash.
Where would we draw the line?
If we would eventually make veganism mandatory (as many proponents of the lifestyle are calling for), how far would it go? Would those that disagree be thrown in jail? Fined? Would we be allowed to have pets? I mean, if all animals are supposed to be free… Would the law interfere with secluded communities like the Amish or Native Americans (both of which eat meat). Would religion count as a reason for eating meat or for sacrifices?
That’s just a few broad questions I have. I mean, I’m by no means an expert and I don’t really lean one way or the other right now. I’m actually quite a proponent of living meat-free, but these issues have been sticking with me for a while now. As I said earlier, I think the meat industry is quite despicable, yes, but I think it needs reform not razing. Yes, I do think that we should all do our part and eat less meat (the West eats way too much of it anyway), but I don’t know if global veganism is the way to go.
What do you guys think? Do you have some answers to the questions above? Any content you point to to help clear them up?
Looking forward to your comments!
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. Rome.
Pictures courtesy of Unsplash.