The real war against climate is being fought on our plates

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By 2050, our world population will climb to over 9 billion. With world hunger affecting 800 million individuals today, you can only imagine the issues that will arise with the need to feed 2 billion more people. As our 90%+ omnivore-enthused world will continue to demand animal-based products, the environmental, social and health-related implications will undoubtedly be devastating.

As experts continue to publish staggering predictions, we are left with a sense of urgency to develop sustainable ways of feeding ourselves without contributing to further resource deprivation. With the increased use of biotechnology and GMO production, natural ways of sustainable farming are becoming obsolete.

What if there was a healthier, more environment-friendly way to combat the modern-day food sustainability crisis?

The answer lies in the optimization of both food security and food consumption. In regards to the latter, a plausible alternative that is slowly becoming more and more prominent is the plant-based diet. If you aren’t vegan yourself, this proposition may seem questionable. There is in fact something to this. With a bit of research, I aim to partially scratch the surface of the questions – why veganism? is this a sustainable way of living?

When asked about the real causes of climate change, many individuals and especially international organizations (Greenpeace or WWF for example) devoted to combating the problem itself, fail to mention that animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change issues. Agriculture today, is the leading contributor of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions in the world (56% of all GHGs). Even more importantly, animals produce methane, a non-CO2 GHG 25x more powerful than carbon dioxide.

In addition, animal agriculture uses over 33 million km2 of land (the size of Africa), 30% of all of our water resources and is responsible for more than 75% of amazon rainforest destruction. At this rate, we’ll need 10 million km2 of additional land to meet food demands by 2050. That’s simply impossible.

As Nil Zackarias perfectly summarized in his #EatForThePlanet podcast, “The real war against climate is being fought on our plates, multiple times a day with every food choice we make. One of the biggest challenges facing our planet, and our species is that we are knowingly eating ourselves into extinction, and doing very little about it.”

The harsh reality is that our governments and international organizations who are to protect us from self-devastation have no interest in doing so, for one sole reason – these agricultural industries generate billions of dollars in profits. The food industry is a combination of the interests of multi-national corporations and the government that disadvantage both the people and the environment. Why would the government promote a plant-based lifestyle if animal agriculture drives its revenues?

Thus, if we truly care about the environment, our health and ethics, we’re better off looking at personal not government-run solutions. Governments have been, are and always will be exploitative of the environment for profit-driven reasons. The environment will continue to suffer at the expense of economics so long as we are demanding the things that drive such industries.

I argue that the most environmentally sustainable, ethical and healthy way of food consumption in the developed world is veganism. 

We live in an era of extreme industrial agriculture (feeding the world through intensive grain and agriculture production) and are perpetually told that meat is necessary for our health. This is highly untrue.

One of the main arguments used for grazing animals for meat is that you can grow crops in marginal lands. But if you’re using your land to grow plants for people to consume directly, you don’t need marginal lands for food. Additionally, Farmecon states that “if feed crops production is pushed onto marginal land the result will be a degraded environment, increased soil erosion, increase water pollution, reduced wildlife habitat, and increased use of chemical and fertilizer inputs.” This means that in order to somewhat sustain a meat-eating world, we either exploit marginal land with GMOs and create harsher conditions for animals, or we cut into even more of earth’s land.

Gene Baur, leading animal rights activist and a 30 years+ vegan explains that if you begin to consume plants directly, instead of harvesting plants to feed animals for agriculture, you’re left with a lot more land – some of which can be let wild. Eating a plant-based diet uses 16x less land, 13x less water, 11x less oil and produces 50% less emissions. Plus, the grain that we’re feeding animals can be fed to people directly, a plausible solution to combating world hunger.

If one person were to skip eating meat for one day and eat only plant-based instead, they could save enough grain to feed 40 people. By diverting the grain we feed animals to people, we could feed 1.4 billion hungry people on whole. 50% of the world’s grain is used to feed livestock. Grain that can be fed to people directly.

At this point you’re probably thinking one of the two most common misconceptions about veganism – “Our ancestors have always been omnivores. They survived from hunting” or “but you can’t replace protein from meat”. Indeed our ancestors were hunters, but they also lived in a world with 1/10th of today’s population, 1/30th of today’s food options and absolutely no chemically-induced animals. Regarding protein, humans need ½ the protein we consume and 2x the fiber. Consuming meat is associated with various health risks, why not turn to legumes rich in protein that provide 3x the health benefits?

In addition to eating plant-based, it is extremely important to seek local food sources and minimizing our food waste.

Localized community food consumption can take the form of purchasing organic products from farmers’ markets and direct local sources. However, the true benefits of organics can easily be convoluted with profit-making incentives and it is often difficult for consumers to decipher when buying organic food is worth the extra dollar. This is another concept I hope to debunk in the near future.

The main idea nonetheless, is to become a local and sustainable consumer – adopting a plant-based diet in combination with getting to the food source as closely as possible. Of course it’s impossible to grow every type of food in your own backyard but it’s this lack of access and dependency on imports that lead us to make choices. And these choices make an enormous difference.

We’re all works in progress. Becoming informed is half the battle.

Adopting a vegan lifestyle not only benefits you and the environment, but also the animals being exploited for our “pleasure”.

Animals on farms, especially those raised in North America, live in extremely harsh conditions and confined spaces. They’re constantly surrounded by their own waste. Could you even imagine the toll this can take on an animal’s immune system? To combat this issue, animals are given antibiotics. These antibiotics given to animals lead to diseases such as salmonella, e.coli and are responsible for 25 000 human deaths each year. Not to mention the health risks associated with consuming animal products – doubled chances of cardiovascular disease, increased risk of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, infertility, etc.

There are countless benefits to eating plant-based; better and stronger health, contribution to ethical animal treatment, more sustainable way of living and increased preservation of our environment. Not to mention the spiritual enlightenment one experiences through love and compassion. Sounds too good to be true right? It’s truly amazing. (If interested, read about my journey to a life-changing decision here)

Veganism is a multi-faceted phenomenon encompassing all social, environmental, political, ethical and health-related branches. It is becoming a growing phenomenon and with the resources available today, it has never been easier to go plant-based.

While veganism may not yet be the optimal route in sustaining the entire world, neither is our current approach to animal agriculture. Thus, those of us living in the developed world with immense privileges and great access to food sources have a responsibility to re-evaluate our lifestyles and minimize the environmental, health and ethical impacts of our habits. Trying to find an optimal route in sustaining an increasingly growing world is truly a complex mission and requires enormous in-depth research, but I strongly believe that plant-based living brings us substantially closer.

If you’ve ever thought about the vegan route or were simply curious about what it entails, check out my other post.

Positive energies always.

Nat

For curious minds:
7 Ways Animal Protein is Damaging Your Health
5 Alarming Facts About Cheese and Your Health

 

2 Comments

  1. Interesting read. I think though that it is important to see how the developed world is only a minority in terms of world population, and will only grow smaller in size with the explosive expansion of nations in the African, Asian, and South American continents. Research keeps showing that for a noticeable change in current environmental trends when it comes to food, 100% (or close to it) of the population must adopt at minimum vegetarian lifestyles. Thus for us to consider the effects on the environment, we must see this as a collective goal and not one of those of us with access to readily available food sources. The issue of the whole world adopting this comes when we see that not all agricultural land is suitable for crop or plant based agriculture, as is, for example, the lands used for grazing in the Scottish Highlands, the Sahel, Caribbean and South Pacific island nations, Andean regions or native lands of Mongolian herders. Even here in my home province of Nova Scotia, the poor soil has pushed agriculture to a small area called the Annapolis Valley. Vegan lifestyles would largely impact not only the culinary connection to the ocean but would also destroy the province’s largest source of income; on a daily basis, more lobster goes through Halifax Stanfield International Airport than passengers in terms of weight. And at the end of the day that is why vegan lifestyles do not work on a large scale basis; culturally, how can you ask 8 billion people to leave the dishes that have evolved from centuries of local economic, religious, and culinary experience? The economic issues that would arise are also staggering, and more people would be forced to move to urban areas where the option to grow your own food is limited. Even in a developed country like Canada, statistics show 8.3 percent of families lack enough financial security to afford proper nutrition. In countries like these, a premium is paid for going vegetarian or vegan; just go to any farmer’s market and see the prices, it often caters to higher social classes. Recent research also points to no considerable increase in life due to eating a plant based lifestyle. Based on all this, the only strong argument for going vegan would be the moral one, one that is impossible to refute. Veganism isn’t the answer to ecological issues, and even if it is, its application belongs more in a fiction novel than in real world application. When we start to look at how meat affects our diet and environment, we need to see how moderation is the key. I invite you to look at the research of Dr Ben Phalan, Peter Alexander, Statistics Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the department of agriculture Canada or the Scientific Journal “Climactic Change” or “Agroecology and Sustainable food systems”. Being vegan is a good choice for some, but we have to see it beyond the “cows = methane” and “health benefits” often found at surface level to be able to truly reap its benefits.

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    1. Juan, thank you for taking the time to read my post and formulating feedback. You brought up some interesting points and while I do agree that the adoption of a collective vegan lifestyle would inevitably lead to economic implications, especially in places like Nova Scotia where fishing is a primary income for much of the population, I also want to point out that I do not claim that the entire planet can sustain on veganism. Neither do I agree that 100% of the world must adopt one particular lifestyle in order for there to be environmental improvements. You can’t expect a family in Uganda whose lives depend on goat milk to be vegan, just like you can’t expect our world to sustain a meat-loving North American population. Ethics aside, the reason why I focus on the developed world and North America especially, is because we are the largest contributors to resource depletion due to animal agriculture. While the developed world might only consist of a minority as you mentioned, 7 of the largest developed countries in the world (including Canada) are responsible for more than 70% of all CO2 emissions, resource depletion, rainforest destruction and other serious environmental issues. Given that the developed minority holds vast control of the rest of world, we are in dire need of an alternative – irrespective of its trade-offs. While fisheries in Nova Scotia and other coastal areas provide economic opportunities for commerce, they are also the leading causes of ocean dead zones and aquatic species extinction. Whether you are evaluating food sustainability from an economic or environmental point of view, you cannot ignore the fact that our current approach to the way we feed the world is costing us our planet. A report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization states that almost a third of earth’s land is used for livestock grazing and an additional third for crop production to feed these animals. That’s 2/3 of the planet! While it is true that not all land used for livestock grazing can be reverted to crop land to sustain plant-based diets, more than half of the crops we grow to feed animals can in fact be used to feed people instead. Eliminating factory farming does not necessarily mean putting farmers out of business – many turn to stock-free farming. From an environmental point of view, neither an entirely omnivore nor vegan diet is the optimal route, however, I do believe that as individuals living in places that hugely contribute to these environmental issues in the first place, it is our responsibility to re-evaluate our way of living. From a health-related standpoint, the reason why we don’t see many in depth studies about the long-term health benefits of plant-based diets is because they get strategically convoluted with the interests of lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies and industries that would cease to exist without animal product consumption. Recent studies published by Berkeley or Harvard for example, have linked dairy and egg consumption with illnesses such as breast and prostate cancers. If you’re ever curious about the health side of veganism, I in turn invite you to check out Dr. Michael Klaper, a 20+ yearlong vegan who has devoted his life to plant-based nutrition and modern medicine and actively sheds light on research you wouldn’t normally see in mainstream studies for obvious reasons. As much as I care about the ethical treatment of animals, I actually went vegan for the exact reason why you believe some people don’t – because I see veganism beyond the “cows=methane so I’m not eating beef” and “mainstream” health-related reasons for it.

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