Believe it or not, I don’t have long, unbrushed hair. I don’t don Birkenstocks through summer, sleet and snow. I prefer hotels to camping, am not keen on picketing outside of fast food joints, and do not particularly enjoy having a pet.
I do, however, eat a plant-based foods diet. I’m conscious of animal products and testing associated with my toiletries and household cleaners. I participate in mindful activities such as yoga and meditation, and I can prepare tofu in thirty-plus ways.
Yes, I’m a vegan, one of the mere 4 per cent of Canadians that follow a vegetarian lifestyle.
I’m not going to lecture you on why slaughterhouses are inhumane, why pigs are friends (not food), and explain why fur is akin to wearing a carcass on your back. But I will tell you (and recent media will back me up on this) vegetarianism is one of the foremost things we can do to help the planet. I am not alone in saying that maintaining animals for food is causing more havoc on the planet than anything else. Our land, water, and air quality are all at increased risk with more and more animal-based consumption.
This past January, the Globe and Mail published an article where they hypothesized that the global demand for meat is expected to double between 2001 and 2050. This staggering increase results in obvious animal suffering, but also creates an increase in global warming and environmental issues, and negatively impacts our health. The World Cancer Research Fund has published numerous studies on how limiting consumption of red meat and avoiding processed meats results in a lower risk of all cancers, notably bowel, breast, and prostate. Not only that, a vegetarian diet is low in cholesterol, which lowers chances of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments.
In April of this year, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production issued a report, a fact-based, comprehensive, and balanced exploration into the farm animal industry (www.ncifap.org). It showed that manure produced by animal confinement facilities is three times that of human output. This manure makes its way into our water, soil, and air, containing pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and heavy metals. Sure, we can control these in some areas; however, the utmost diligence will not protect us from it leeching into our water system, careening its way via transport of smog, and fertilized into our vegetables. Tests on air quality resulted in toxic answers: gasses and substances such as human pathogens are commonly found in the air we breathe.
Our water supply is also greatly affected by animal production. Between cleaning procedures and animal feed, the ratio equates to approximately 2500 gallons of water to 1 pound of meat; conversely, soy requires 250 gallons per pound of meat, and wheat 25 gallons.
The cause of global warming is based on the greenhouse effect, which is in turn cased by carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. These emissions leak from the degradation of waste, buildings, and animals themselves. According to a study done in 2007 by The American Science Journal, a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a car every 250 kilometres, or burning a 100-watt light-bulb for approximately twenty days. One-third of fossil fuels, according to E magazine (a well-versed environmental publication), are produced by raising animals for food. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, one calorie of animal protein production requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein, simultaneously producing ten times the carbon dioxide.
The production of animal flesh requires sixteen pounds of grain for just one pound of output. These grain resources could instead be used to feed the 800 million or so people world-wide suffering from malnutrition. Sixty million people die of starvation every year; a child starves to death every two seconds. Considering, for example, that 80 per cent of corn and 95 per cent of oats grown in the US is eaten by livestock, it’s mind-boggling why humans are left with only the remaining twenty.
The process of slaughtering animals for food is a much longer, energy-wasting process then need be: once these grains are grown, tilled, taken care of, and trucked to their factories, they are then trucked to the farms. These animals are brought to slaughterhouses, then to processing centres ─ both of which use energy for transportation and to maintain. The meat is packaged and then transported to grocery stores. Between the energy, the production of fossil fuels, and the manure, our air is tainted. Every step of this process – growing, transporting, operating, even keeping the product cold in the grocery stores ─ uses up precious energy.
It doesn’t stop here, though. Our land is also at risk; consider, for a moment, all of the areas that are bulldozed to make more room for animals and the crops needed to feed them. Rainforests, too, are in jeopardy: clear-cutting of these forests results in fewer natural resources and the extinction of thousands of species.
According to the Toronto Vegetarian Association (www.veg.ca), the average agricultural land area in North America is 1.6 hectares per person; in other countries (foremost with plant-based diets) it’s only 0.2 hectares per person. Needing only this half-acre to produce food would save vast amounts of land to protect our resources. As we speak, 53 per cent of the third largest rainforest in Papua New Guinea is vanishing, and according to National Geographic, expected to be gone by 2021. The trees that would normally play a critical role in absorbing the greenhouse gas emissions have been destroyed, increasing the severity and speed of global warming.
Combined with the aforementioned (but only briefly noted) health effects, as well as the obvious (but often ignored) animal suffering, this issue shouldn’t be taken lightly. A group of studies done in 2007 from the US National Academy of Sciences revealed that carbon dioxide emissions are rising three times faster than in the 1990s: 3 per cent per year as opposed to 1.1 per cent.
There are a plethora more studies, all coming to the same conclusion: less meat = less destruction on the environment. Plant-based diets use less water, less space, less CO2 output, and wreak less havoc on our earth. Canadians eat more than twice as much meat as the global average, and by reducing this –even if initially designating one meat-free day per week – will aide in combating these issues. Combine this tactic with eating locally whenever possible, reducing chemical pesticides on your own lawn and garden, and becoming mindful of your choices.
It doesn’t take an Einstein to understand the obvious benefits. Albert Einstein said it himself: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances of survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”
As featured in Life Peak Magazine’s December 2008/January 2009 issue. “Is being a vegetarian one of the top things you can do for the planet.” Written by Laurie Sadowski.