Veganism is often considered one of the most radical diets. It truly is a lifestyle as well, since being vegan by choice not only entails refusing to ingest any animal products, it also means avoiding animal products in clothing, makeup and other purchasable items. But what many don’t realize is that veganism and vegetarianism, besides encouraging a healthier, plant-based diet, also contribute to a greener earth, and could save the lives of not only countless animals but also our planet itself.
Before urbanization and industrialization and other “izations” that led us to where we are today, consuming animals meant finding one, killing it, and utilizing the meat and fur it provided. Nowadays, livestock production requires huge amounts of natural resources such as water, fossil fuels and topsoil. There are more than 17 billion livestock in the world — approximately triple the number of people. The water needed to irrigate grains and hay for livestock is massive. The Water Education Foundation has discovered that it takes around 2,654 gallons just to produce one pound of beef, whereas only 25 gallons are necessary to produce one pound of wheat. In the United States, 40 percent of water used goes to irrigating feed crops for livestock. In addition, world meat production has quadrupled in the past fifty years, and the livestock population is growing far faster than human population. It’s expected that this trend will only continue at a rapidly increasing rate due to the Chinese and other countries’ middle classes adapting to a more Western-inspired, meat-centred diet.
In addition to water usage, a meat-based diet takes up three times as much land as a vegan diet. Land availability is one of the primary constraints on increased food production, and with a population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, a major question has become, quite literally, where on earth we will produce more food. The planet is limited on the amount of viable land for agricultural, and what’s not already being used could be the home to endangered species of plants and animals. It also doesn’t help that the continued felling of forests to grow food leave fewer trees overall to absorb carbon dioxide and combat global warming. Industrial livestock production is simply unsustainable. However, a vegan diet only requires about a third of the land necessary for meat-based diets.
Not only is livestock production taking up vast amounts of space, it’s also polluting our air. The methane produced by bacteria in the stomachs of sheep, cattle and goats (which is released through the animals’ bodily functions) is responsible for at least one third of all biological methane emissions on the planet. Methane, unfortunately, is also twenty times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Even if methane wasn’t an issue, a typical meat-based diet is creates nearly 1.5 tonnes more carbon dioxide per person, per year, than a vegan diet. To put that number in perspective, experts have agreed that it would be more environmentally beneficial to stop eating meat than it would be to switch to an electric car.
So why are the majority of people still opposed to the vegan diet? Is it truly the taste of bacon and other meat products that make it difficult for people to even slightly reduce their animal consumption down to just a few meals per week? Perhaps it is a lack of education, or misunderstanding of the vegan and vegetarian culture that causes a negative response.
Data from the social media analysis tool Viralheat shows, despite veganism being most often associated with health concerns and a clean diet (some the most frequent vegan Tweeters are handles like @health_watch and @CookingRecipe_s) negative sentiment toward the idea of veganism slightly outweighs positive sentiment, though both represent around 40 percent of all social mentions. The remaining 20 percent remain somewhere in the middle, perhaps knowing the diet’s benefits, but not being in favor of committing themselves.
Still, it’s important to keep in mind, for those opposed to veganism and vegetarianism, that even a compromise, or commitment to eating less meat, could benefit the planet. Animal cruelty viewpoints aside, there’s no debate that eating less meat would help ease food crisis and prevent excessive energy use and pollution. After all, veganism is no longer just about the animals, it’s now also about a greener planet.