Veganism is experiencing an all-time high at the moment, with more people than ever before consciously making an effort to cut back on animal products. Practicing veganism is one of the best ways to show compassion, not only towards animals raised for food, but to the environment, other humans, and other living beings that we share the planet with.
Although great-tasting vegan food has become a lot more accessible over the years, it can still be tricky, even for the most seasoned vegan, to answer questions about why one chooses to leave animal products out of the picture. If you find yourself faced with one of these challenges, just pull out one (or more) of these facts about why you went vegan in the first place.
8 Facts to Remind You of Why You Went Vegan
1. Eating Plant-Based Cuts Your Carbon Footprint by More Than Half
Industrial animal agriculture is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the world, more than the entire transportation sector combined. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) estimates that factory farming contributes to at least 18 percent of global GHG emissions. The Worldwatch Institute places animal agriculture’s GHG emissions even higher at 51 percent, accounting for the everything it takes to raise an animal for food, from birth to being shipped to the grocery store, and everything in between, like the GHGs that occur as a result of clearing forests to make room for grazing land and animal feed. On top of that, not only do cows in the beef and dairy industry emit carbon dioxide (CO2), cow flatulence produces methane, which is 34 times stronger a heat-trapping gas than CO2 over a 100-year period. Yikes!
If an individual were to leave animal products off their plate for just one year, that person could cut their carbon footprint by more than half.
2. Animal Agriculture is Thirsty Business
The amount of water that it takes to keep the animal agriculture industry going is astounding. According to the Worldwatch Institute, one-third of the world’s available freshwater is dedicated to growing grains for livestock. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, as animal agriculture’s water footprint accounts for water used to grow It takes 15,000 liters of water to produce just one kilogram of beef, 3,300 liters per kilogram of eggs, and 1,000 liters per kilogram of milk. If we want to look at a side-by-side comparison, the vegan Impossible Burger uses one-quarter of the water required to produce a beef patty.
Globally, about 700 million suffer from water scarcity due to lack of access to freshwater, but it is estimated that by 2025, two-thirds of the world population may be affected by water scarcity. Veggie burger, anyone?
3. Animal Agriculture Hogs Up Land and Destroys Forests
According to a report by the International Livestock Research Institute, livestock systems account for 45 percent of all global arable land use. This accounts for the land required to grow food for animals on farms and the facilities themselves. Factory farming is one of the leading drivers of deforestation and the FAO estimates that 70 percent of the Amazon rainforests have been cleared in order to make room for cattle. In the American West, wild horses are routinely rounded up and sent to holding facilities in order to make way for cattle farmers.
4. Animal Agriculture Disproportionately Harms Poor Communities
“Environmental racism” is a term used to describe a form of environmental injustice in which historically marginalized racial communities are routinely exposed to a higher degree of pollutants than white neighborhoods. Typically, when we think of pollution affecting local neighborhoods, our thoughts drift to waste dumps and factories and animal agriculture doesn’t even cross our minds. However, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspective, “swine CAFOs [Confined Animal Feeding Operations] are disproportionately located in communities of color and regions of poverty.” CAFOs are facilities that confine 1,000 animals for 45 days a year. These facilities manage animal waste by storing it in open-air waste pits called “lagoons” (which release GHGs such as methane, affecting the air quality of local communities) or by dumping it on land, releasing pollutants into soil, air, and water.
According to the Food Empowerment Project, multiple sources have highlighted California’s San Joaquin Valley, where many industrialized animal facilities are located, as an example of environmental racism at work. According to a report by the Central Policy Health Institute, seven out of eight San Joaquin Valley counties have a higher percentage of Latino residents compared to the rest of the state and has been described as one of the “least affluent areas of California,” with poverty posing “a significant problem.” Asthma and other respiratory problems, premature birth, allergies, and contaminated water are among the top issues faced by poorer communities.
5. We’re Feeding Animals While People Go Hungry
The FAO estimates that around the world, about 815 million people suffer from chronic undernourishment. But according to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota, we grow enough food to feed ten billion, the population we expect to reach by 2050. Unfortunately, the majority of food grown is dedicated to feeding livestock. While solving world hunger is not as simple as redirecting grain intended for livestock to humans, industrialized animal agriculture lies at the heart of the problem.
6. The Oceans Will Run Out of Fish by 2048
According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications, overfishing has pushed the global fish supply to its limit. As a result, the world’s fish stocks, driven by the industrial fishing industry, are set to collapse as soon as 2048. On top of that, ineffective fishing practices lead to a total of 10 million tons of captured dead or dying fish, the 4,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools, being thrown back into the ocean each year. The FAO has previously reported that 80 percent of the world’s fish stocks are “over-exploited” or “in a state of collapse.”
Captain Paul Watson, founder of the activist group Sea Shepherd, has famously said: “if the oceans die, we die.” This is not a metaphor. The oceans not only provide us with 70 percent of the world’s oxygen, they also absorb 30 percent of CO2, a contributor to climate change, from the atmosphere (which has unfortunately also led to ocean acidification).
7. Animals Raised for Food Aren’t So Different From Our Pets
What’s the difference between cats and dogs and the animals we raise for food? Not much! Pigs are reportedly as smart as toddlers and in one study, researchers concluded that “pigs are cognitively complex and share many traits with animals whom we consider intelligent.” The award-winning documentary “The Last Pig” tells the story of a pig farmer who faces an ethical dilemma over sending his pigs to slaughter and two resident pigs of Catskills Animal Sanctuary were saved by a pig farmer who “could no longer ignore that they had deep emotional experiences.”
Chickens are also intelligent avians with a capacity to experience emotion. They can calculate basic arithmetic, recognize the faces of over 100 fellow chickens, “talk” to other hens, dream, and make friends.
Cows, meanwhile, have been known to display altruism towards other animals, experience happiness and sadness, solve intellectual challenges (such as opening a gate), and love to be pet and cuddled by humans.
8. Vegan Food is Delicious
We’ve come a long way from the bland veggie burgers of decades past. So much so, that even omnivores are eating them en masse. Recent data shows that regardless of dietary preference, 37 percent of American consumers choose vegan options when dining out and more than half of Americans prefer the taste of plant-based protein to meat. The vegan Beyond Burger and the vegan Impossible Burger are both cropping up at chain restaurants and local eateries due to growing demand for plant-based food.
Image Credit: Beyond Meat | Santuario Igualdad