In this day and age, it seems that so-called “fad diets” are becoming more and more popular, especially among millennials and young adults. Aside from all of the more extreme diets – such as the grapefruit only diet or taking shots of apple cider vinegar to boost metabolism – there is a rising market for vegetarian and vegan diets across our population. Most of these fad diets are not based upon actual scientific evidence. However, veganism and vegetarianism are two diets that have been shown to benefit both your personal health and the health of our environment. According to a New York Times article published in 2014, roughly 12% of all millennials are “faithful vegetarians,” while only 4% of those belonging to Generation X and 1% of baby-boomers identify as such. The reasons for this new popularity vary across different people; some may feel very strongly about animal rights, while others may just want to live a healthier lifestyle. Whatever the reasoning may be, the data shows that more and more people are switching to plant-based diets, which has many positive impacts on the environment.
Most people have seen or heard of those documentaries about the horrible conditions that animals are subjected to in slaughterhouses across the globe. There are many documentaries that show extremely graphic images of cows and pigs being loaded onto conveyor belts and mutilated as if they were not living creatures. Generally, whenever anyone sees images of animals being treated poorly, they get infuriated. hink of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) commercials (A.K.A. the one with the Sarah McLachlan song) or even posts on social media that show people treating animals poorly. Typically, people react very strongly to these types of images because they feel humans should not be harming innocent and helpless animals that cannot defend themselves. This reasoning makes complete sense; however, if we feel so strongly about animals being mistreated in front of a video camera, why is it that when it comes to the animals being slaughtered for food, we care significantly less? The issue seems to be most important when we are shown the injustice happening right in front of us, which is common for any issue that we face in our society. For instance, people would not be paying much attention to the issue of police brutality had an enormous amount of videos depicting police mistreatment not begun to surface in recent years..
Advocating for animal rights on a regular basis, not just when animal cruelty can be seen, is a big reason why some environmental activists switch to plant-based diets. So, once we are shown these images and realize that there are inhumane acts occurring, the next step is to take action. One of the ways that we as consumers can take action against animal cruelty is to switch to plant-based diets. Not only will we help ourselves by living a healthier lifestyle, but we are protecting innocent animals from being subjected to cruelty. Furthermore, we are protecting the environment.
According to an article posted by the Georgetown Environmental Law Review in 2015, roughly 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions were directly caused by livestock production in 2006. To put it in perspective, livestock production contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than transportation. Greenhouse gases are produced by animal agriculture mostly through waste, which releases methane into the atmosphere. Methane is one of the best heat-trapping chemicals – even better than carbon dioxide. It is about 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. Scientists from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization have measured the amount of methane in the atmosphere and have concluded that livestock and other agricultural practices have contributed to 35% of anthropogenic methane emissions each year.
In addition to its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, animal agriculture has had some serious impacts on the environment in a variety of other ways. For instance, overexploitation of the world’s fisheries has led to 75% of all fisheries on Earth being depleted or overused The depletion of fisheries means that there are significantly lower levels of fish in certain areas of the ocean, which can lead to economic and political issues as well as environmental ones. Furthermore, the emphasis on the animal agriculture industry by the U.S. government (as well as other countries) has led to issues with wildlife and deforestation. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Bureau of Land Management have created programs that kill wildlife that threaten ranch or farm animals This has lead to the rounding up of wild horses and a severe decline of wolf populations in the Pacific Northwest. In regards to deforestation, since animal agriculture is a highly profitable industry, governments in places like Brazil have cleared much of their tropical forests, which are home to an incredible amount of biodiversity, in order to create more land for cattle ranches and fields for grazing. Last but certainly not least, the livestock industry consumes about 55 trillion gallons of water per year on average. To top it all off, it takes about 5,000 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef for consumption.
After reading all of these facts about the animal agriculture industry, you may be wondering what it is that you can do to help. The most significant way to make any changes to the current agricultural trends is to change the way consumers think about their food. One way to help is to switch your diet to be more plant-based; according to Dana Hunnes, a UCLA professor, our food supply could increase by 49% if everyone in the U.S. switched to a more plant-based diet. In addition, we would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and use significantly less water and energy with an agricultural industry that focuses more on plants than livestock. All in all, it is safe to say that there are many positive impacts that you can make (both for yourself and for the Earth) by eating more plants and less animal products. The only challenge now is to make the decision and stick with it. For helpful tips and ideas about vegetarian meals, check our “Meatless Monday”s on our Facebook page!
Written by Ella Liskiewicz
Image and Illustration by Emily Chen