Written by Liane Stieglitz, ESLLC 2017-2018
The word vegan is used more and more frequently in today’s world, as many begin to notice the benefits of a plant based diet in their health, their ethics, and also the environment. You may not care about your health or the wellbeing of animals, but the environment is just as important when explaining veganism to those that don’t know much about it. Between deforestation, energy consumption, and water consumption, the meat and dairy industries are knowingly destroying our Earth, but this information doesn’t always extend into the public eye.
For starters, deforestation is a huge factor. It takes a lot of land to raise cattle and pigs and chickens (at least in an ethical sense) as well as a lot of crops that go into feeding them instead of humans. In fact, according to National Geographic, “the biggest driver of deforestation is agriculture.” And yes, agriculture means crops as well but we wouldn’t need as many crops if they were solely going to humans and not being wasted on producing animals that we don’t even need to eat. Cows eat a lot more than humans, and according to Gentle World, if everyone in the world ate a strictly plant based diet, world hunger would cease to exist. If we stopped wasting the majority of our crops in feeding animals that we don’t need to raise, we would have enough food for every person, without even using more crops. That also means that we wouldn’t need to clear more land for those crops by tearing down the rainforests and destroying entire species and ecosystems.
Secondly, the meat and dairy industries also contribute to energy consumption issues. Processing and packaging meat and dairy products takes a lot of fossil fuels, and that doesn’t even include the transportation to get it from farm to you. While plant products also take processing and packaging to an extent, many plants are simply harvested and put into stores as produce. You would never see a raw and unpackaged chicken breast just sitting on a shelf. They have to be at least wrapped in plastic to keep sanitary and fresh. These excess consumptions used in meat and dairy production are contributing to big energy problems, and they wouldn’t have to be if people would stop consuming animal products.
The third and final main effect of animal product consumption is water use. While crops have to be watered, they don’t consume nearly the amount that even one cow does. According to Grace Community Foundation, the average loaf of bread requires about 240 gallons of water to be created. However one pound of beef takes about 1,800 gallons of water. This is because cows require much more water to be able to grow than that of plants, and they also consume at that rate for a longer period of time before they can be slaughtered. This means that every quarter pounder with cheese you’re getting from McDonalds, the meat part of that burger alone is using almost double the water that an entire loaf of bread would use. Just think of the water conservation that would take place if the meat industry would cease to exist, and that’s not even taking into account the dairy industry. With cows that are raised for milk, they’ll consume that water for a lot longer than a cow that only gets to live for 18 months before being killed.
Overall, no one can tell you what to eat or how to eat it. Food is not only a tool for survival, but a sentimental and communal part of our lives. Many have trouble letting go of the thought of not eating their mother’s turkey on Thanksgiving, and that’s okay. For some, the facts are enough to initiate change, and for others it’s simply not. If there does come a day when at least the majority of humans are herbivores, it’s a long ways a way. However, it’s a start to simply give the facts and see where they take us environmentally.