Going vegan is a very personal choice. Ask any dozen vegans why they chose that lifestyle and chances are you will get 12 different responses ranging from “I have more energy,” to “I’m appalled by today’s industrialized torture of animals.”
Regardless the fundamental reasons why a person may opt for a plant-based diet, there are many reasons to feel good about adopting a vegan lifestyle. Undoubtedly, most understand that they are contributing to a better society and a cleaner world by abstaining from consuming meat or any animal by-products.
As part of the economic downturn in which we are still facing, there was a renewed interest in hybrid autos. General Motors stopped producing several of its larger gas guzzlers including the Hummer which was originally designed for military use in the U.S. and abroad, rather than for civilians on shopping sprees. Prius buyers were put on a waiting list, and most all the other auto brands quickly unveiled their own fuel-efficient versions, from SUVs to sedans to pickups, there are now dozens of hybrids on the market.
With the cost of gasoline spiraling daily at the onset of our recession, finally, automobile owners thought twice about what kind of vehicle they were driving and even tried to cut back on their mileage. Incongruously, most consumers didn’t put much attention to what they were putting on their dinner table. Possibly the laissez faire attitude was because Americans weren’t feeling the pinch at the fast food drive-thru. Despite being one of the most credible and widely read newspapers in the United States, there was little reaction to the New York Times article “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” that equated the oil industry to the meat industry and blamed the “assembly-line meat factories” with the “destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rainforests.”
While it is highly commendable for commuters to downsize their car, few switched to rapid transit, bikes or car pools where the mark would have been greater. So if Americans have difficulty in keeping their cars in the garage, they should consider a vegan diet which has an even greater impact on our carbon footprint than switching from a large sedan to a hybrid. According to researchers from the University of Chicago, a strictly vegetarian diet prevents the equivalent of 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
“Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” stated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the same level of CO2 released by the average European car every 155 miles. For those Americans who’ve never been across the Atlantic, EU citizens that are not speeding around on a motorcycle tend to drive manual vehicles that look like erasers next to the ubiquitous oversized trucks and SUVs clogging Texas’ auto arteries. Texans who grew up on meat and potatoes, chicken fried steaks and huevos con chorizo could probably reduce their meat intake drastically if they picked up the recipes of their counterparts in some of the EU nations. As the land of the free, Americans feel free to keep the lights on, drive their gas guzzler and guzzle down cola after a supersized steak and ice cream sundae. In other nations, the concern for the environment is becoming part of the infrastructure.
Even the United Nations has repeatedly supported meat- and dairy-free diets. The chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urged people to skip meat one day a week to curb carbon emissions . On another occasion, the UN said without a trend in veganism, the world food supply would need to increase 70 percent by 2050 . The UN experts added that a vegetarian diet wasn’t sufficient, as dairy cows are a major source of methane.
The UN also encouraged complete plant-based diets as a means to stop global warming. A report they issued identified meat producing as causing more global warming than the automotive industry. The industrialization that is required to feed our world’s meat eaters contributes to deforestation, burning of fossil fuels and a proliferation of greenhouse gases. Additionally, the pesticides, hormones and drugs that are used by the industry ultimately find their way into our water systems. The UN suggested that animal agricultural is the largest source of water pollution. So if you think it’s ok to skip the red meat and eat fish, think again.
Beyond the water pollution, we are drying up our planet to feed the animals, their food crops, and the fields in which the livestock graze. An estimated 441 gallons of water are needed to produce just one pound of meat. Translating that to your dining habits, by saying no to just one hamburger, you’ll make a mark on an animal’s life, and our water resources. Your body will never miss the lost burger since most of us consume double the recommended daily allotment of protein, and not always the best kind of protein, either.
The New York Times exposé confirmed that Americans eat twice the amount of meat as our non-American counterparts, contributing to the slaughter of ten billion animals in our country per year which equates to 15 percent of the world total. The article continued to say that “30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production,” generating nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases.
The Sierra Club, as part of a campaign to “restore our Western Wildlife Heritage,” attests that livestock grazing is taking place on land the size of Texas and California, combined. The fencing to keep the livestock within their designated fields is a detriment to other wildlife. Furthermore, the grazing is placing endangered species at even greater peril. “No other human activity in the West is as responsible for the decline or loss of species as is livestock production.”
If you care about the world in which you live, think about your food choices. If you do not feel going totally vegan is right for you, make a conscientious reduction in your meat and dairy consumption. Former Vice President, Al Gore, while not a vegetarian, admits he’s cut back significantly on his meat intake in an effort to make a positive impact on our environment. His former boss, President Bill Clinton, skipped the meat at Chelsea’s wedding as part of a vegan diet to protect his health. In a video interview he conducted with The Huffington Post, he confirmed his attempt to be vegan. “I follow a pretty strict (plant-based) diet. Once in a while I’ll eat fish.”
But there’s no fish on the menu in San Francisco. The city of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted for Mondays as Vegetarian Days following Paul McCartney’s Meatless Mondays initiative designed to reduce our carbon footprint. Every bit(e) helps.
Photo Credit by Neal.