The number one reason why people go vegan is because of a love of animals, with people changing their diet in an effort to curb animal cruelty. But apart from animal welfare, there are two other important reasons why we believe a plant-based diet is best: improving our health and protecting the environment.
We’ve addressed the health benefits of choosing a plant-based diet in our blog ‘8 Health Benefits of Going Vegan’. Now let’s take a look at the benefits of a vegan diet for our environment…
Environmental Benefits of a Vegan Diet
As we all know, the environment around us is facing increasing stress and damage, often caused by human actions. But did you know that the production of meat and other animal products, in particular, places a heavy burden on the environment in a number of ways1?
1) Cut Your Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The impact of animal agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions goes a lot further than just cows producing methane gas. Meat production requires vast amounts of energy. Not only do you have to grow the crops to feed the animals, but fossil fuels are also burnt in the raising, slaughtering and transportation of animals. In fact, livestock and their by-products account for 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions2. So if you choose to eat meat, your greenhouse emissions can be twice that of someone on a plant-based diet3.
Alongside this we need to remember that livestock consume much more protein, water and calories than they produce, as most of the energy taken in by animals is used for their bodily functions and not converted to meat, eggs or milk. In fact, as Cornell University found, producing one calorie of food energy from beef requires 40 calories of fossil fuel energy, whilst producing one calorie of human-edible grain takes only 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy4!
2) Preserve Habitats and Species
Eating animals is the largest contributing factor in habitat loss and extinction5. First, producing meat requires large amounts of land to
raise animals on. Every second, an area of rainforest equivalent to a football field is cleared to rear and graze animals6! It is estimated that 1lb of beef is equivalent to 200 square feet of destroyed rainforest7. And overall, it’s estimated that eating meat requires three times more land than is needed for a vegan diet8.
Second, poorly managed animal waste products from the meat industry are polluting our environment and destroying habitats. Many pollutant waste products get washed into our water systems, the nitrogen and phosphorus found in this waste causes algae to grow on the water and starves the fish of oxygen. This process leads to the creation of ‘dead zones’, places where few species can survive9. As of 2011, 530 marine areas were identified as dead zones10.
3) Conserve Water
Whilst it may seem that water is plentiful, especially on very rainy days, fresh water is actually a very scarce resource. Only 2.5% of all water on our planet is fresh water, and only 30% of that is available to us and not frozen as ice11. Water scarcity is a very real issue, with over a billion people living without sufficient access to clean water.
Food choices can have a big impact on water demand. Unlike the majority of plant-based foods, raising animals requires vast amounts of water. This is because animals need water to drink, wash, clean their living spaces and cool themselves during hot periods12. In fact, a study comparing the water footprint of different foods found that whilst a soy burger has a water footprint of 158 litres, a beef burger has a water footprint of 2,350 litres, which is over 14 times as big13! This situation begs the question: if so many people are living in areas without access to fresh water, why are we wasting so much of it producing animal products when we can get all the nutrients we need from plant-based foods?
The production of plant-based foods is a more efficient use of our resources, as it requires less energy from fossil fuels as well as less land and water. By removing animal products from our diet we can play our part in reducing humanity’s damaging impact on our environment.
1) The Vegan Society. (2018). Environment. [online] Available at: https://www.vegansociety.com/g... [Accessed 17 Jan. 2018].
2) Goodland, R., and Anhang, J., 2009. Livestock and climate change. World Watch. (Assessed 16 August 2014).
3) Hedenus, F., Wirsenius, S. and Johansson, D. (2014). The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets. Climatic Change, 124(1-2), pp.79-91.
4) Pimentel, D. and Pimentel, M. (2003). Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 78(3).
5) Oppenlander, R. (2012). Comfortably Unaware :: Biodiversity and Food Choice: A Clarification. [online] Comfortablyunaware.com. Available at: http://comfortablyunaware.com/... [Accessed 17 Jan. 2018].
6) Veganuary.com. (2018). You’ll save wildlife. [online] Available at: https://veganuary.com/why/envi... [Accessed 17 Jan. 2018].
7) Rainforestconcern.org. (2018). Rainforest Concern - Why are they being destroyed?. [online] Available at: http://www.rainforestconcern.o... [Accessed 17 Jan. 2018].
8) The Vegan Society. (2018). Food security. [online] Available at: https://www.vegansociety.com/r... [Accessed 17 Jan. 2018].
9) Veganuary.com. (2018). You’ll reduce pollution. [online] Available at: https://veganuary.com/why/envi... [Accessed 17 Jan. 2018].
10) World Resources Institute. (2011). New Web-Based Map Tracks Marine "Dead Zones" Worldwide. [online] Available at: http://www.wri.org/news/2011/0... [Accessed 17 Jan. 2018].
11) World Wildlife Fund. (2018). Water Scarcity | Threats | WWF. [online] Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/... [Accessed 17 Jan. 2018].
12) Unesco.org. (2018). World Water Assesment Program |Agricultural use | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. [online] Available at: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/n... [Accessed 17 Jan. 2018].
13) Veganuary.com. (2018). You’ll save water. [online] Available at: https://veganuary.com/why/envi... [Accessed 17 Jan. 2018].
14) Ercin, A., Aldaya, M. and Hoekstra, A. (2012). The water footprint of soy milk and soy burger and equivalent animal products. Ecological Indicators, 18, pp.392-402.