Before I even get to the crux of what I actually want to say with this article, let me first make the disclaimer that I’m not some moral hippie that looks down upon the people around me who make life choices that differ from my own.
I’m not some social justice warrior bent on using my personal identifier of “vegan” to somehow give me permission to adopt an air of superiority around all of my fellow animal product-consuming friends.
I’m not some animal rights activist bent on saving the precious life of every cow, chicken, and pig being sent to the slaughterhouse.
By most vegans’ definitions, I’m probably not even a real “vegan.” Whatever. Titles are overrated and groups are unnecessarily exclusive.
I have decided to become a vegan based on the reasons I’ll detail in this article. If, after reading what I have to say, you are so inclined to change your dietary habits as well, then great.
But if you think I’m full of shit, or if you simply disagree with my overall thesis, then that’s fine too. I can’t change your mind and I certainly can’t change your lifestyle.
I’m just here to provide you with some facts you may not have been aware of and offer a new perspective on an issue that gets muddled up with peripheral points of contention.
The debate between vegans and non-vegans is unnecessarily vitriolic, and I would like to enter it without prompting further unneeded hate and name calling.
Like every other decision I make in this world, I do so from a place of logic and reason. I carefully weigh the pros and cons, this evidence against that evidence, to formulate an informed conclusion that makes the most of all of the relevant factors.
My decision to become a vegan was not easy, but it was no different than any other decision I have made in my life: it was one of necessity.
In The Beginning…
As a kid, I was always a little on the stout side.
I was never the most athletically inclined. I’d engage in neighborhood games of football or baseball, but I always much preferred sitting in front of the old TV with a big bag of chips.
I was the chubby kid with the glasses who got picked last for kickball in gym class. And I was okay with that.
But then I started getting older. I started to understand the effects that my diet was having on my body and my mind. I came to realize that I didn’t want to be chubby anymore. I didn’t want my life to revolve so much around food.
I wanted to be able to walk up a few flights of steps without getting winded. I wanted to be able to run a mile without stopping.
So when I was 16, I changed my diet. I significantly cut down on the junk food I was consuming. I started eating a lot more fruits and veggies. I actually started running for fun.
I did most of this over one summer. By the time I started my next school year, I had lost 10 or 15 pounds. Not too shabby.
The best part about that summer was the interest I gained in nutrition. I had always assumed that by eating foods that were “sugar-free” or “all-natural” that I was doing my body some kind of service.
It wasn’t until I started doing extensive research, reading books, and watching documentaries on nutrition that I realized what eating nutritionally actually meant.
And since that time, I’ve come to learn all about the importance of a well balanced, moderated diet. I’ve gone on to shed a bit more weight and significantly lower my mile time, but I think the most profound impact of this entire lifestyle change has not been the knowledge I gained about the food I was eating, but instead about where the food was coming from.
America’s Food Problem
Here’s the deal: this may come as a shock to you, but Americans like to consume. We looooove buying shit. So much of what it means to identify as an American has to do with the way in which we spend our money.
And we spend a LOT of money on food: almost $1.5 trillion per year, over half of which is spent on food eaten outside of the home. 1United States Department of Agriculture. (2016, April 12). U.S. food away-from-home sales topped food-at-home sales in 2014.
We also love to consume animal products. Beef. Poultry. Fish. Pork. Milk. Eggs. Cheese.
This is the first leg of America’s food problem: our buying habits. We buy and eat too much food.
An estimated 70% of US adults are obese or overweight. That’s almost three-quarters of our adult population. 2National Center for Health Statistics. (2016). Health, United States, 2015: With Special Feature on Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. U.S. ...continue
Beyond consuming animals or not consuming animals, we’re consuming too much. Our diets consist of soda and candy and salty, sugary, fatty foods, all of which are not consumed in any moderation.
The second leg of the problem is the capitalistic response to our insatiable demand: the food industry. Not only are companies like Tyson and ConAgra churning out a seemingly endless supply of food for us to consume, but they are also contributing to our food fanaticism via unethical marketing campaigns and dishonorable lobbying tactics.
Food is treated like any other commodity and the market urges us to consume consume consume.
And sure, we can appreciate the culinary process and a love for an eclectic mix of tastes and flavors. We’re allowed to make food that tastes good and we enjoy eating.
But at the end of the day, we forget that food is ultimately just an energy source for us. It’s one problem when the market repeatedly tells us to consume iPhones or Jeeps. But we enter a completely new territory when we’re literally being asked to consume all of the McDonald’s, Reese’s, and Mountain Dew Kickstart Energizing Midnight Grapes that we can. Whatever that even means.
We have also reached the point where prominent scientists, doctors, and lawmakers have entered the food frenzy to continually urge us to make sure we are consuming enough of these mega-companies’ products to allow profits to continue to rise, regardless of the moral or ethical limits that should probably be put in place.
These two factors come together to create one of the most inefficient systems of resource distribution ever.
Here’s what happens:
- The 7.4 billion people on Earth demand food, most of which is derived in some way from animals. (This is nothing new of course. We’ve eaten animal products for as long as humans and animals coexisted on Earth.)
- The food industry is then tasked with raising, farming, or capturing billions upon billions of animals for our eventual consumption.
- These animals require a staggeringly high number of resources, including water, grain, and land.
- Resources that could easily be put to more efficient uses are dedicated to raising animals to adequate sizes for eventual slaughter or further resource extraction.
- The food we receive from these animals is then sold and marketed to us, which allows the cycle to perpetuate and the food industry to continue to grow.
So the animal farming industry is disorganized, inefficient, and wasteful, which is a real shame because it utilizes so many resources that could be better apportioned to provide a greater utility for all.
In becoming aware of these inefficiencies, I also become more concerned about the relationship between humans and planet Earth. I wanted to be an agent of change and help conserve resources in any that I could.
I’d minimize my water usage. I’d try to keep the heat low in the winter and the AC off in the summer. I’d reduce, reuse, and recycle.
I figured I must at least be doing some good for the environment, right? I knew the actions of one person never seem to amount to much, but I was at least able to rest easy knowing that I was doing my part.
But little did I know that in the grand scheme of things I wasn’t doing jack shit. Every conservative action I had taken, every measure I set up in my life to safeguard our planet was so negligible, so infinitesimally insignificant, so pitifully minimal compared to the good I could have done by making just one small change to my lifestyle.
I eventually realize that I need to stop treating the symptoms and start treating the problem. I realized that the single most beneficial thing I could ever hope to do for this wonderful little planet we live on was to stop consuming animal products.
The realization didn’t hit me all at once, but as I began to dig deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of the negative effects that the animal farming industry has on our planet, becoming a vegan became the only logical choice.
I am quite astonished at how large of a problem this is and how little people know about it. So here is just a handful of the many staggering statistics regarding the inefficiencies with the animal farming industry which results in a squandering of natural resources that is slowly killing our planet:
- On average, 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef. 3Pimentel, David; Berger Bonnie, et al. (2004, Oct. 1). Water Resources: Agricultural and Environmental Issues. American Institute of Biological ...continue
- 477 gallons of water are required to produce 1lb. of eggs; almost 900 gallons of water are needed to produce 1lb. of cheese. 4Environmental Working Group (2011). Water.
- 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk. 5Mekonnen, Mesfin, M. and Hoekstra, Arjen, Y. (2012). A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products. Ecosystems.
- Whereas potatoes require 34 gallons/pound, oranges 61 gal/lb, broccoli 34 gal/lb, and tomatoes 26 gal/lb, to name a few. 6Mekonnen, Mesfin, M. and Hoekstra, Arjen Y. (2010). The Green, Blue And Gray Water Footprint of Crops And Derived Crop Products. UNESCO-IHE.
Imagine the resources required to raise a small calf into a huge cow. Imagine all of the water and the grain that must be consumed to cause such a large growth to happen in such a short amount of time. We’re dumping resources into these animals that could be put to much more efficient uses, all to propagate our addiction to animal products.
Forget taking a shorter shower. Forget turning the spigot off when you brush your teeth. Forget not watering your fucking lawn. For lack of a better analogy, these solutions are merely drops in the bucket compared to the water you can save by giving up the consumption of animal products.
I know that’s a huuuuge lifestyle change. Maybe you’re not ready for that yet. But even if you gave up beef, which is the most inefficiently made animal product we consume, you would still be conserving far more water than all of your other traditional water conservation tactics combined.
- Nearly half of the contiguous US is devoted to animal agriculture. 7Glaser, Christine; Romaniello, Chuck; and Moskowitz, Karyn. (2015, January). Costs And Consequences: The Real Cost of Livestock Grazing On ...continue
- Land required to feed 1 person for 1 year:
- Vegan: 1/6th acre of land
- Meat Eater: 3.25 acres of land 8Earthsave International. (2006). Our Food Our Future. p. 9
- We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people, 9Holt-Giménez, Eric. (2012, May 8). We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People… and Still Can’t End Hunger. Common Dreams.yet more than one-third of the world’s grain harvest is used to feed livestock. 10Shah, Anup. (2010, August 22). Beef. Global Issues.
- Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction. 11Margulis, Sergio. (2004). Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon. The World Bank.
- Up to 137 plant, animal, and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction. 12Urquhart, G.R., Skole, D.L.m et al. (1998, November). Tropical Deforestation. p. 3. NASA.
As awesome as Earth is, it’s only so big. There’s a finite amount of land, and only a portion of that land is suitable for agriculture. Even if people are unable to change their eating habits and we have to continue to meet the high demand for animal products, we’re going to run out of suitable agricultural land.
The Earth might not have been meant to sustain the 7.4 billion humans currently living on it (much less the estimated 10 billion to be living on it by 2050), but we are now reaching Earth’s spatial limit when you factor in the incredible number of animals we are rearing for our eventual consumption.
The majority of the land that we use to grow feed for animals can be repurposed to create sustainable plant-based food for human consumption. We could immediately end hunger, and simultaneously stop the need for deforestation, if we were able to eliminate demand for animal products.
- 25% of fisheries worldwide are either overexploited or depleted of fish. 13United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. General situation of world fish stocks.
- For every 1 pound of fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill. 14FAO Fisheries and Agriculture Department. Discards and bycatch in Shrimp trawl fisheries.
Overfishing is a serious problem. Again, we live in a world of finite quantities. When our demand surpasses the natural threshold that Mother Nature can withstand, we either need to adapt our habits, or get used to a world with fewer resources.
Hopefully, we will choose the former, because the latter will result in a domino effect that will mark the end of the biological food chain as we know it, and thus the circle of life.
I am sure that there is an acceptable amount of fish that we can eat, just as with any other creature. But until we come to agree on what that number is as a world population, then we run the risk of causing lasting harm to Earth’s largest biome. Cutting fish completely out of your diet until such an agreement is met is the only way to begin to preserve the equilibrium of the oceans. 15We should also obviously determine a way to reduce by-kill to zero, whether we are catching a sustainable amount of fish or not. We shouldn’t ...continue
4. Greenhouse Gas
- Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day. 16Ross, Philip. (2013, November 26). Cow Farts Have ‘Larger Greenhouse Gas Impact’ Than Previously Thought; Methane Pushes Climate Change. ...continue
- Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of CO2 per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. 17Goodland, Robert and Anhang, Jeff. (2009, November). Livestock and Climate Change. World Watch.
Let’s set aside the fact that animal farming is inefficient. Let’s set aside the fact that people are dying of hunger as we feed billions of pounds of food to animals intended to be slaughtered. Let’s even set aside the fact that the Amazon rainforest is being dozed down at a rate of 1.5 acres per second for animal agriculture. 18Scientific American. Measuring the Daily Destruction of the World’s Rainforests.
With all of those factors ignored, the idea of cattle rearing being responsible for the majority of the greenhouse gases in our environment should be reason enough to begin the search for a solution to this problem.
Our planet is dying and we are getting dangerously close to the point of no return.
And the problem is only going to get worse. Emissions from agriculture are projected to increase 80% by 2050. 19Tilman, David and Clark, Michael. (2014, November 27). Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature.
You read that right. 80%. Ignoring even the greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuels, we will still surpass the 565 gigatonne CO2 limit by 2030, all from raising animals. 20Oppenlander, Richard A. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. Minneapolis, MN: ...continue
Is eating animals morally wrong? I don’t know.
Is eating products from animals morally wrong? Again, I don’t know. 21I actually happen to think that consuming animal products in general is morally wrong, but the argument put forth in this article is one of ...continue
But as for eating animals or animal products being sustainable? No. Absolutely not. Not at the huge quantity we are currently consuming.
I am sure there exists an amount of beef or poultry or cheese we can safely consume per person without having a noticeable impact on the environment. Whether that number is 20% of our diet, or 10%, or maybe even 1%, I don’t know.
What I do know is we need to cut down on the animal products we consume. And we need to do it fast.
The ice caps are melting. The rainforests are disappearing. The ozone layer is disintegrating. We’re approaching the point of no return.
If you enjoy living on Earth, you may want to consider educating yourself a bit more in regards to the food you put in your body and the impact your buying habits are having on the world.
I don’t have enough trust in humanity to envision a world, or even an America, where no animal products are consumed. In all honesty, there are enough people with allergies and diet restrictions that make that an impossibility anyway, let alone the stubbornly meat addicted who view veganism as a liberal agenda meant to destroy American jobs or some shit.
And while merely altering your diet helps, a vast majority of us are going have to completely cut our ties as consumers with the animal farming industry if we want any change to be observed.
I don’t know about you, but I’m in my 20s. I have my whole life ahead of me. I’ve always dreamed of being able to travel the world and see its many wonders. It’s just a real shame that I feel the need to accomplish this task sooner as opposed to later because I don’t know how much longer we are going to have a sustainable planet to live on.
Sure, you can indulge in Meatless Monday. You can opt for a turkey burger over a beef burger the next time you go out to eat. You could even swap regular milk for soy milk every other time you go shopping.
This will help.
But you have to know that in your heart of hearts it won’t be enough. In your brain of brains it won’t be enough.
Most arguments for veganism are based on some emotional component that is intended to cause you to empathize with the creatures you are supposedly harming. There is a moral argument to be waged, but that is not the argument I am making today.
If you’re someone who’s just a sucker for an emotionally charged cause, then I suppose you should divert your empathy to the millions of people who die every day of hunger, or to the billions of us who will not have a sustainable planet to live on by the end of the century.
I have instead done my best to provide you with a rational, logical argument that hopefully makes the consumption of animal products illogical for any person who considers him or herself an environmentalist, much less a human who enjoys living on Earth.
I see veganism as the only immediate solution to this problem that will allow any person reading this to contribute to the cause.
A person who follows a vegan diet on average produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th the oil, 1/13th the water, and 1/18th the land compared to a meat-eater for their food. 22Wilson, Lindsay. (2013). The carbon foodprint of 5 diets compared.
Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves on average 1,100 gallons of water, 23Water Footprint Network. Personal water footprint.45 pounds of grain, 24Environmental Working Group. (2011). Meat Eaters Guide Methodology.30 sq ft of forested land, 25Scientific American. Measuring the Daily Destruction of the World’s Rainforests.and 20 lbs CO2 equivalent. 26Scarborough, Peter; Appleby, Paul N., et al. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climatic ...continue
The notion that one person can’t make a difference is generally true if you look at the noticeable effects of a person’s actions. But this is simply not the case in regards to how one person switching to a vegan diet can benefit the environment. You can actually calculate your carbon footprint for free here.
These aren’t my opinions. These statements don’t exist in a vacuum. I am not some secret undercover vegetable lobbyist. (Although that would be a cool job. We definitely need more of those in Washington.)
These are facts and I am a realist. It’s time for us to face the music.
I went vegan. Can you?
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||United States Department of Agriculture. (2016, April 12). U.S. food away-from-home sales topped food-at-home sales in 2014.|
|2.||↑||National Center for Health Statistics. (2016). Health, United States, 2015: With Special Feature on Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|3.||↑||Pimentel, David; Berger Bonnie, et al. (2004, Oct. 1). Water Resources: Agricultural and Environmental Issues. American Institute of Biological Sciences.|
|4.||↑||Environmental Working Group (2011). Water.|
|5.||↑||Mekonnen, Mesfin, M. and Hoekstra, Arjen, Y. (2012). A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products. Ecosystems.|
|6.||↑||Mekonnen, Mesfin, M. and Hoekstra, Arjen Y. (2010). The Green, Blue And Gray Water Footprint of Crops And Derived Crop Products. UNESCO-IHE.|
|7.||↑||Glaser, Christine; Romaniello, Chuck; and Moskowitz, Karyn. (2015, January). Costs And Consequences: The Real Cost of Livestock Grazing On America’s Public Lands. Center of Biological Diversity.|
|8.||↑||Earthsave International. (2006). Our Food Our Future. p. 9|
|9.||↑||Holt-Giménez, Eric. (2012, May 8). We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People… and Still Can’t End Hunger. Common Dreams.|
|10.||↑||Shah, Anup. (2010, August 22). Beef. Global Issues.|
|11.||↑||Margulis, Sergio. (2004). Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon. The World Bank.|
|12.||↑||Urquhart, G.R., Skole, D.L.m et al. (1998, November). Tropical Deforestation. p. 3. NASA.|
|13.||↑||United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. General situation of world fish stocks.|
|14.||↑||FAO Fisheries and Agriculture Department. Discards and bycatch in Shrimp trawl fisheries.|
|15.||↑||We should also obviously determine a way to reduce by-kill to zero, whether we are catching a sustainable amount of fish or not. We shouldn’t be killing helpless sea creatures at the expense of catching a specific fish.|
|16.||↑||Ross, Philip. (2013, November 26). Cow Farts Have ‘Larger Greenhouse Gas Impact’ Than Previously Thought; Methane Pushes Climate Change. International Business Times.|
|17.||↑||Goodland, Robert and Anhang, Jeff. (2009, November). Livestock and Climate Change. World Watch.|
|18, 25.||↑||Scientific American. Measuring the Daily Destruction of the World’s Rainforests.|
|19.||↑||Tilman, David and Clark, Michael. (2014, November 27). Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature.|
|20.||↑||Oppenlander, Richard A. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. Minneapolis, MN: Langdon Street, 2013. Print.|
|21.||↑||I actually happen to think that consuming animal products in general is morally wrong, but the argument put forth in this article is one of sustainability, not morality. I’ll leave that for another day.|
|22.||↑||Wilson, Lindsay. (2013). The carbon foodprint of 5 diets compared.|
|23.||↑||Water Footprint Network. Personal water footprint.|
|24.||↑||Environmental Working Group. (2011). Meat Eaters Guide Methodology.|
|26.||↑||Scarborough, Peter; Appleby, Paul N., et al. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climatic Change.|