There’s no doubt about it, the meat industry—and specifically beef and dairy—is a big issue when it comes to how we can sustain a healthy and liveable planet. There are many different contributors to climate change, but virtually all of them lead back to a common cause: the exponential increase in the human population and the industrial age that rose to accommodate the growing numbers of consumers. We as a species depend on a lot of luxury items for our comfort, but more importantly, basic needs needed to be met at a higher rate than ever before, so as the human population increased, so did the demand for food, and with it, the detrimental effects mass farming and agriculture can have on our planet.
Most things can be alright, and even good, in moderation, but humankind’s incessant need for more is anything but that. More land, more water, more clothes, more money, more food. More, more, more, until we start to question just how much more there is. When you live in a closed system, there is a finite amount of resources, and something humans haven’t understood for a long time is that the Earth that we live on is just that. One large closed ecosystem, that everything is tied to and everything depends on, including us. Everything we do has consequences, and when a species is as numerous and widespread as ours, they are drastic.
With that being said, let's look at some facts about cattle farming, the worst type of animal product from an environmental standpoint. Cattle ranching is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, habitat loss of wild animals, and disruption of natural ecosystems by causing soil erosion and contamination. Beef production has increased globally by 25% in the last fifty years, and cattle accounts for ⅔ of all greenhouse gas emissions from livestock (in comparison, pork and poultry only account for 10%). Thousands of acres of forest are lost each year to accommodate land needed for cattle ranching. According to WorldWildlife.org, in the last 50 years 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been converted to land for cattle. With that information, it’s pretty clear that cutting beef out of your diet would be a very environmentally friendly thing to do.
So, with all of this information, we ask the question, should everyone be vegan? Veganism is indeed one of the most sustainable diets where our planet is concerned, and many within the environmental community hold the toxic mindset that one cannot be an environmentalist without being vegan, but the issue is so much more complicated than that. Many people do not have the luxury of being choosy about their diets: for some, it’s a financial issue, as those in impoverished areas rarely have access to good quality food, much less a broad selection that would allow them to sustain a selective diet. For others, health issues require them to eat certain foods to maintain the proper nutrients needed to be healthy. If you want to be vegan or vegetarian, I recommend looking into your family health history to make sure that you can still receive all the right minerals, vitamins, and nutrients you need to sustain your health while avoiding certain foods.
Furthermore, eating meat is not inherently a bad thing. Humans have been eating meat for tens of thousands of years, and we’re only encountering a problem now because of the unsustainable farming practices used and the rate at which beef products are produced. If you have the privilege of buying organic, grass-fed beef from local farms, the environmental impact that purchase will have is greatly reduced, as recycling manure as fertilizer traps the carbon that would normally be released into the atmosphere in the soil to be reused.
The mindset of blaming the consumer for problems created by corporations is rampant in today’s society, and the conversation around veganism is a prime example of that. We must remember to take a step back and look at the big picture, and know there are many different ways of solving a singular problem. Veganism is a sustainable diet that works for many, but it isn’t the only solution, and the environmental impact can greatly be lessened simply by adjusting the quantity and the sourcing of the product in question.
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