Why I Don't Advocate for Everyone To Go Vegetarian

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This post was written by Polly Barks and originally appeared on Green Indy Blog. Shared with permission.

A plant-based diet.

It’s a scary idea to many, but a necessary push for anyone concerned about their carbon footprint. Luckily, everyone’s plant-based diet will look different depending on your dietary needs, access, location, and a whole host of other personal choices.

This post explores our problem with meat, the impact of a switch to veganism or vegetarianism, and take a look at why anyone claiming just one way of eating is just plain wrong.

I have a personal ethical stance on the treatment and consumption of animal products. This is a more practical, data-driven look at the issue that only briefly talks ethics re: cultural differences. I understand ethics are central to most people’s beliefs around meat, but I ask you keep an open mind and make any and all dialogue respectful.

Our Problem with Meat

The modern Western world and its industries have an unhealthy relation with the animal products we consume. Here the focus is on meat, as I’ll talk more about the relative impact of vegetarianism (ie. some animal products) below. Here are just a few of the issues coming from our out-of-control consumption:
  • We’ve distanced ourselves from our consumption. Any time we do this, it’s a dangerous precedence for consuming without awareness. When we’re dealing with living beings, the results are horrific. We all know the horrible practices going on to get our meat and animal products. Still, it’s very easy to ignore when we’re not physically involved with the gross bits.
  • Our practices are environmentally dangerous. All aspects of large-scale commercial farming are highly unsustainable. “A lifecycle analysis conducted by EWG that took into account the production and distribution of 20 common agricultural products found that red meat such as beef and lamb is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains” (source). This comes from the range of factors needed to sell as much meat as we consume. Growing their food, destroying swaths of land for farms, pesticides, fertilizer, etc.
  • We’re consuming unhealthy amounts. Drawdown tells us the unfortunate truth behind this. On average, people from the USA and Canada consume almost twice as much protein daily than is recommended. “Eating too much… can lead to certain cancers, strokes, and heart disease.”

So we know meat and the way we process and consume it is a problem. What’s the answer – and is it really worth it to make a switch to a plant-based diet?

The Global Impact of Vegetarianism and Veganism

From an environmental perspective, making the swap toward a plant-based diet is one of the best ways you can reduce your carbon footprint!

A University of Oxford study found that veganism beat out vegetarianism in its emissions-reduction ability. But maybe not as much as you think. Based on a worldwide transition to a different diet between 2016 and 2050, the study suggested a 70% reduction of food-related GHG emissions, while a vegetarian diet followed closely behind with a 63% reduction.

For me, this is all great news. Sustainable veganism (more on that below) is clearly the answer, but while veganism is accessible and possible for many, for others it isn’t. Knowing vegetarianism has a similar impact (ethics aside) is important when we consider the negative implications of global veganism. You can read the full article about it here, but it boils down to foreign demand making staple crops really expensive. Plus, the travel miles around food is a huge source of carbon emissions!

In the end, though, a plant-based diet is the obvious answer. A very rough estimate from Drawdown* (it’s hard to pinpoint such a broad, ever-changing set of data) says we could expect 66.11 gigatons of reduced CO2 by 2050. That’s “if 50 percent of the world’s population restricts their diet to a healthy 2,500 calories per day and reduce meat consumption overall… at least 26.7 gigatons of emissions could be avoided from dietary change alone. If avoided deforestation from land use change is included, an additional 39.3 gigatons of emissions could be avoided.”

Why Veganism Isn't the Only Answer...

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