Turn on the television, and we hear news about Donald Trump’s latest tweet, or the latest celebrity gossip. But something far more important is happening that isn’t talked about every day, something with the ability to impact each and every one of us – on every continent – down to the very way we live our lives. The truth is, we have a natural tendency to put off what we don’t have to worry about tomorrow, next week, or next month. When the time is right, we feel we are in control to tend to our challenges, however great they may be. This is especially true when the challenge involves all of us, all of humanity – as we can rely on our collective minds. But when we overestimate the time that we have, it becomes inevitably too late to escape without a cost. This is arguably what is happening with climate change – and the costs are big.
The discussion of major dietary changes worldwide has risen as one of the hot-seat topics dealing with climate change over the recent years. This is primarily due to the fact that global agricultural practices, in particular, those that deal with animals, are broadly seen as having a tremendous impact on the environment and climate change – to an extent grossly surpassing even our energy, fossil fuel driven economy. The result is a gradual, but steadily growing discussion of replacing meat from the common diet – globally. With drastic implications to livelihood and culture, it is obvious that this discussion is not without controversy. So the question remains: Will going vegan save our planet from climate change?
Meat production consumes about 70% of the world’s fresh water. The logical conclusion? Meat is wasteful. The German agriculture ministry advised citizens to avoid eating meat over environmental concerns. The first thing we need to be able to do is measure the environmental impact of the food we eat. We can do this for different food supply chains by using carbon foot printing methods. We can say that a vegan diet does indeed deliver a decreased carbon footprint, but this is without consideration to food trade and global distribution costs. Food wastage can exceed 19 percent of food purchases, and food loss across the supply chain can be even greater. Food wastage can make any diet unsustainable, whether or not it includes meat. In turn, food waste increases the carbon footprint which, to an extent, counters the positive gains. Perishables, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, are more likely to be thrown away than fresh meat and fish. Thus, without proper cost estimations, we cannot say to what extent eating a vegan or vegetarian diet is better for the environment. If production systems are sustainable, the waste is managed, and positive health outcomes are achieved, all forms of diet can be appropriate. Different preservation formats can reduce food waste to near zero, and food waste can be halved in the case of frozen food. There are, of course, trade-offs in choosing foods. An air freight of green beans from Kenya to the U.K. is considered unsustainable due to cost of air miles, but supports up to 1.5 million people and the livelihoods of poor regions in Africa. One way that food choices can be less damaging, and help sustain livelihoods and good agricultural practices, is through guidance of sustainability certifications. Certifications distinguish, for example, what is sustainable fishing, rainforest produce, and so on.
There are many perks to going vegan. A vegan diet is safe for people of all ages, including pregnant women. Vegans are much less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, as eating fewer animal products often results in lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of cancer. Economists have found that producers raise and kill fewer animals when less meat is consumed. Caring about the suffering of animals who do not have the power to stand up for themselves has a humanitarian outlook to it. Sustainable development is the need of our time. Environmentally friendly, cruelty free, and healthier practices must be adopted by everyone – for the betterment of the planet, and for the betterment of our own future generations. The sooner we accept and implement it, the better. Although many people succeed at going vegan quickly, a gradual transition will be more sustainable and practical. People who find the transition from non-vegetarian to vegan can gradually reduce their meat consumption by instead practicing their diet, from once to a few days a week. I think if we simply include new foods in our routine, until there is no room left for the old animal products, it will definitely work. Sacrificing high-protein foods is also not required as vegan ‘meats’ are widely available. Dairy products are also easy to replace with a variety of alternatives found at most grocery stores and food establishments. Many elite athletes and bodybuilders who are vegans can become our role models.
In view of the above, it can be concluded that becoming vegan is a powerful way to save our planet from climate change. Giving it a try is worth it (it is also a way to oppose cruelty to animals – enough motivation for those who love animals to consider trying it). As we know, “A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step”. Take that step. What we choose to eat makes a powerful statement about our ethics and our view of the world -- about our humanity.