By Phoebe Kamber
Is going vegan just another health trend?
NO, going vegan can be a push towards a better Earth!
Factory farms are industrial farms that provide 99% of the 10 million animal products the U.S. consumes every year. They are some of the greatest antagonists of our environment. By going vegan, you can diminish their harmful impact.
Meat and Dairy vs. Planet Earth
Raising livestock contributes to 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Not only do many farm animals produce waste in the form of methane gas and nitrous oxide, but the pesticides and energy used to produce the grain to feed these animals combines to create a dangerously high amount of air pollution. Exacerbating this is pollution from the transportation process, as well as from energy expenditure to maintain their feeding areas and grain fields. PETA reports that “producing a little more than 2 pounds of beef causes more greenhouse-gas emissions than driving a car for three hours and uses up more energy than leaving your house lights on for the same period of time.” Many people think of air pollution as the grey smoke sneaking out of the back pipes of cars or planes, yet that pollution is miniscule compared to what raising livestock produces on a daily basis.
The meat industry also wastes and contaminates immense amounts of water. Animal feces often runs off into lakes, streams, and rivers, carrying large amounts of bacteria and polluting nitrogen that causes the growth of algae, which deprives marine life oxygen. Animals also require a huge amount of water in their lives: “It takes 100 to 200 times more water to raise a pound of beef than it does to raise a pound of plant foods” . This demonstrates just how much water is wasted on animals in factory farming. It also shows how turning away from meat can reduce water waste.
Animal agriculture also fuels deforestation, as land is cleared to allow space for raising livestock and to grow the grain used to feed them. In the U.S. alone, 80 percent of all farmland is being used for the meat industry, much of it through monoculture or land dedicated to growing only one crop. These monocultures are dangerous for the environment because they are not sustainable; they leave the land to waste away during off seasons and rely on synthetic fertilizers to replenish the nutrients they strip away from the soil. They also require the application of synthetic pesticides, which can be unnecessary in a natural and diverse agricultural environment.
So, Why Veganism?
Taking all of these factors into account, cutting out animal products from one’s diet can have a much larger impact on the environment than one might think. Being vegan can also be very beneficial for one’s health by decreasing one’s intake of harmful chemicals and by making one more conscious of their diet.
Beacon sophomore Helena Rajalingam, who made the switch to veganism one month ago, has found herself enjoying such benefits: “Now that I have to check labels and think about the foods I am eating to make sure they are vegan, I feel myself making a lot more healthy decisions when it comes to meal choices.” Since burgers and classic meat sandwiches are no longer an option, she feels that she has been eating more vegetables. “I didn’t realize how rarely I ate vegetables until I started needing them to bulk up my meals.” Rajalin also says the change wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be; it’s actually been fun for her to go on grocery trips and try new foods. She’s “excited to start cooking more meals for [herself] and experiment with making [her] own vegan substitutes” for meat, which she rarely craves.
Some argue that a vegan diet is too expensive to maintain and lacks enough nutrition. However, going vegan can actually be cheaper than buying meat if one chooses to buy plant-based proteins and meals that one can cook oneself, such as lentils, beans, quinoa, tofu, and rice. All of these foods can be very cheaply bought in bulk and they provide lots of protein. That said, going vegan does take commitment, and one must be willing to be conscious about one’s diet in order to get enough protein and stay healthy.
If going vegan does not seem like a change you are willing to make but you still want to decrease your carbon footprint, there are other dietary alternatives. One is to buy locally-sourced ingredients as opposed to ones shipped from a different continent, as these have fewer food miles and use fewer resources. Additionally, one can go vegetarian or just limit the amount of meat in one’s diet. Even just eating animals that are from organic farms instead of factory farms can significantly reduce related carbon emissions and environmental degradation.
Ultimately, going vegan is an incredibly effective way to live more sustainably. Still, there are many other ways to conserve energy and waste less. It is up to all of us to become conscious eaters, in whatever form we decide that consciousness takes.