Can Veganism Really Save the World?
Veganism: Good for the Planet, Good for Your Body. But Will It Work for All of Us?
Perhaps you have heard the case for veganism. Should we all go vegan? A lot of the intersecting problems in our world and environment can be connected to our food and production systems. Lately, here at Producers Trust, we have been sharing a lot about how certain industries create environmental destruction and impact climate change. Often, one of the main solutions that is touted is going vegan or becoming plant-based.
Leather industry is harmful? Don’t purchase animal products.
Cattle industry is a top driver of deforestation and climate change? Stop eating meat.
Is veganism really the end-all be-all solution to some of our world’s greatest problems?
We’d like to break it down here—as objectively as possible.
First of all, there are a variety of reasons why people choose veganism or to cut out animal products from their diets. Here are some of the most common ones.
Veganism as Animal Activism
Many people believe that consuming animals or sentient beings is ethically, morally, or spiritually wrong. People who are vegetarians generally don’t eat any animals or seafood or fish, but do consume eggs and dairy products. Veganism, is the natural extension of vegetarianism, where people also refrain from eating any animal products such as eggs, dairy, and honey. This is more than a mere diet. Rather, it is an integral component of a true cruelty-free lifestyle.
Other people may not be opposed to the idea that humans consume animals, but are appalled about the disturbing way our societies have come to raise and produce livestock for human consumption on large, inhumane, filthy factory farms and the choice to be vegan is a form of activism against animal cruelty.
Plant-based as a Health Choice
Some people choose to cut animal products like meat, seafood, and dairy from their diets as a way to lose weight or be healthier. While of course, animal products do offer us some nutrition, especially protein and iron, everything we need can be found in plant products.
It may take some work in learning about how to combine and access certain nutrients, but it is a fact that fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals, and generally they contain less saturated fats and cholesterol.
Veganism to Save the Planet
As we have mentioned in previous articles, the livestock industry is wreaking havoc on our planet and our climate. The cattle industry is the top driver of deforestation around the world, particularly in critical ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest, which we literally need for our survival as a species.
Cattle and other livestock industries require a lot of land for grazing and even more land to grow their food. Additionally, their waste creates a lot of pollution, requires excessive water, and emits high levels of methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change.
Many people are going vegan or decreasing meat consumption to do their individual part in caring for our planet.
And of course, many people choose to be vegan for all of these reasons combined and more.
Meat Consumption & the Colonized World
While many meat eaters seem to feel offended at the suggestion of going full vegan or even decreasing meat consumption, most cultures haven’t always consumed nearly as much meat as we do now.
In our colonized world, the high consumption of animal products is directly related to aggressive modern marketing and the heavily subsidized animal agriculture system of the global north and its exploitative use of land and resources outside of the global north. Case in point–the Amazon rainforest has been violently cleared for beef production. While not culturally ubiquitous, it is true that across Latin America and much of eastern North America, many of the Indigenous cultures ate diets based on fruits, vegetables, and legumes. and less wild game. Diets heavy in animal products are often products of continued imperialism and colonial influence.
Understanding How Lobbying & Marketing from Meat & Dairy Industries Influences Our Diets
While meat has been a part of most diets throughout human history, the increased rate of consumption is relatively new and it’s related to the industrial revolution, big corporations buying up and industrializing small farms, and aggressive marketing and influential advertising which convinced the general public that we needed to eat more meat.
While the science is clear on the increasingly destructive impacts of the meat and dairy industry on the climate, on biodiversity, and on human health, the meat industry continues to spend vast amounts of money on campaigns to keep us hooked on its products, often with support of public funds.
As meat consumption has increased exponentially, and livestock industry giants do not want this to change–even at the risk of our planet. In fact, in the United States, the meat lobby is one of the most influential groups in Washington. In 2014, lobbyists spent more than $4 million lobbying Congress.
Lobbyists for the cattle industry even turned up at COP 26 where they celebrated a “win” in not having to change much in their industry related to methane emissions. In fact, at the summit, industry lobbyists also described a campaign to change how the climate impact of the greenhouse gas methane is measured. The proposed metric could see the agricultural sector claim to be climate neutral without significantly cutting emissions.
Do We All Need to Quit Eating Meat?
Is it realistic to imagine a world where everyone is vegan, our forests and other ecosystems are flourishing, and all the animals on the planet are happy and healthy? It might be.
It certainly is a lovely vision, but as with any potential solution, it is deeply nuanced.
What are some of the drawbacks of suggesting a veganism-for-all solution?
The first is that not everyone has access to affordable and nutritious produce and plant-based products. Places like this in the United States were once known as food deserts, but now the term has been updated to food apartheid to recognize the structural racism that exists when we consider why certain communities struggle to access nutritious food sources.
As mentioned before, while many pre-colonial diets were based on plant sources, not all of them were. To suggest to certain people that they should go vegan to protect the earth can be incredibly culturally insensitive, especially if they are part of Indigenous communities who have always been protectors of the earth, using sustainable methods of hunting and producing their food sources.
Additionally, many humans around the world earn their livelihoods by raising livestock. We’re not talking about powerful industry lobbyists here, but small producers who work the land on various types of farms to raise cattle and other animals in order to survive. While decreasing beef consumption suddenly all over the world will support a healthier planet and climate, there are many people who would be affected negatively. Is a more gentle transition possible? Is there a way to confront the human livelihood aspect while shifting jobs and industries for livestock producers?
Can We Find a Solution?
Each individual person who goes vegan can save 200 animals per year, 1.3 million gallons of water, and 1.5 tons of carbon emissions, and the UN reports that a vegan diet can feed many more people than an animal-based diet.
While not everyone can or should become vegan, those of us that have the privilege of access to nutritious plant-based options, can and should decrease our meat consumption. Across the board, what is healthier for humans is generally healthier for the planet. We do not need to eat so much meat. It is actually hard on our bodies, and it is hard on the planet. When we do consume animal products, we can put in a bit of effort to buy from local, regenerative projects that value animal wellbeing, the climate, and the earth.
Consciously consuming fewer animal products is a small but powerful decision that many of us can make. However, as with our responses to every planetary threat, the onus should not fall completely on the consumer.
Almost all the big problems we face as a species today are interconnected. This can seem very overwhelming. But it also means that solutions are interconnected. The solutions however, are not easy or singular. They require mental agility and the ability to hold and understand nuance.
Veganism isn’t a one-size-fits all answer. Neither is it a bad place to start.
Often the debate around whether or not to eat animals becomes very polarized and heated. Why? Why do so many of us feel so emotionally attached to one side of this or the other?
This article isn’t to convince anyone to go vegan or to go against veganism. Hopefully, it offers a balanced perspective.
As I see it, there are two main problems. One is a mindset or awareness problem and one is systemic. It is time for us to shift our mindsets about how and what we consume and how it comes to us. We need to be able to recognize how lobbying and marketing influence us and our purchasing decisions. We also need drastic systemic overhaul where large corporations, small producers and businesses, farmers, and consumers commit to change together. Are we being too idealistic?
Is it too idealistic to call for cooperation within systems and communities rather than competition?
Is it too idealistic to imagine that small producers of cattle could continue working in their livelihood without destroying the planet? And that large cattle industry lobbyists could back off a bit and let us work towards a safer rate of emissions?
We encourage you to browse our marketplace to find regenerative projects that value the planet and the animals. You may not buy your meat from them, but guaranteed you will feel inspired by their work and values.