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.
For curious minds: