On revealing to acquaintances of the carnivorous persuasion that I lead a plant-based, vegan lifestyle, I've grown accustomed to their processing this information with a considerable amount of side-eye followed by the inevitable question ...
"What made you decide to become vegan?"
Over time, I've discovered that there's so much more to the concept of being vegan than simply waving the flag for the animal kingdom. Vegans get a bad rap for being a tribe of preachers out to make you feel bad about your dietary choices. But I've learned that the environmental and social implications of supporting the meat and dairy industry are so harrowing that the argument should be less about making individuals compare their diet to my own, and more about spreading awareness on what exactly their supermarket dollar is supporting.
Now, when I receive questions about my plant-based lifestyle, I try to use it as an opportunity to lead by example and gently educate those who are genuinely interested in why becoming a vegan can, in fact, save our planet.
Need convincing? Here are five ways going vegan can help us reduce our wasteful resource extraction, and maybe even save the planet!
1. It helps alleviate world hunger.
There's more than enough plant food in the world to feed our world population. So why are millions starving?
Meat consumption is an inefficient use of grain. More than 70% of the grain we harvest is fed to the tens of billions of livestock animals that are killed every year for the meat industry. World hunger is not a scarcity issue, it's a distribution issue. If we stop breeding animals for slaughter, and instead used the corn, soybeans and grain to feed the world's hungry, hunger wouldn't be nearly as serious an issue.
2. It slows climate change.
A United Nations report stated that animal agriculture is a larger contributor to greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation put together.
About 19,000 factory-farmed animals are slaughtered each minute in the United States. That's a lot of methane and nitrous oxide being emitted every minute via their nether regions. These harmful emissions are directly related to climate change, with methane alone being 25 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide. Reduce the amount of farmed livestock, and the gases that contribute to climate change will be reduced.
3. It will help prevent a water crisis.
Haven't you heard? Every year the competition for access to a clean and abundant water supply intensifies. Currently, 1 in 9 people on the planet lack access to safe water. When you realize that 70% of the earth's fresh water is consumed by animals farmed for slaughter, you'll understand that removing meat from your diet will have more planetary impact than taking shorter showers.
4. It may heal Western disease.
Professor T. Colin Campbell conducted the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of the relationship between the food we eat and our health. His book, The China Study, examines the results of his 20-year research plan and compellingly puts forward the argument that the countries where the majority of the population practices a diet based on plants and whole foods are less likely to develop disease such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
All of the studies indicated that the most damaging substances we can ingest are animal protein and dairy products. This science was not inconclusive; the people who followed a plant based diet, with no animal products, showed little or no signs of "Western diseases."
5. It counters deforestation.
Billions of animals are bred for our consumption every year. That many animals take up a lot of space, and finding large stretches of empty land requires cutting down trees. Cattle ranching is the main cause of deforestation in the Brazilian rain forest, with an area the size of Portugal already carved out for cattle farms.
The death of our forests means the death of us and every other species on this planet. The atmosphere and climate of the earth relies directly on the amount of carbon held in our trees, meaning if the trees vanish there is nothing holding back all of the carbon and our planet will become uninhabitable.
People may say it's their right to eat meat. But I believe that when an individual's right can have devastating impacts on our only planet, it becomes a wrong.