Eat your greens like the whole world depends on it!

| 3rd July 2018

Serving suggestion: how about leaving the animals alive?

Eating meat might barbecue the planet. That seems to be the message from Oxford University researchers. So it it time we all turned to a plant based diet. LOUISE DAVIES from the Vegan Society gets stuck in...

As vegans, we believe that cutting out animal products is a simple, logical step which is essential if we’re to see real hope for the future of our planet.

The campaign to end single use plastics has been inspiring - it has gripped a nation. But you might be forgiven for thinking that cutting plastic was the only environmental campaign around.

Veganism is certainly having its moment too. Yet, in the mainstream media there is far more excitement about how to cook with jackfruit or seitan than there is about the dramatic positive impact that going vegan has on the planet.

I believe that veganism is the environmental campaign of our time. Researchers at Oxford University appear to agree. They stated that avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on the Earth.

Sustainable food

The weight of evidence goes back to 2003 and the UN’s Livestock’s Long Shadow report which stated that animal farming was responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Since then a myriad of unbiased research has been published, confirming the carbon impact, species destruction, land use and inefficiencies of animal farming. However, the animal farming lobby - or those posing as sustainable agriculture experts - have tried to cling on to the necessity of using animals in our diets.

Yes, of course, The Vegan Society has a vested interest in positioning animal farming as environmentally damaging, but we are the only such organisation. And every research institute, think tank or commentator who agrees with us has absolutely nothing to gain from this fact.

Last year The Vegan Society launched our campaign, Plate Up for the Planet, to encourage environmentalists to think about veganism as part of their positive lifestyle choices. We’re launching the 2018 campaign on World Environment Day with new recipe content and an interactive game to tell the sustainable vegan story.

Often, when we think about sustainable food the conversation is dominated by local sourcing, organic or packaging use. However, the prevalence of animal products in our diet is hugely damaging to the planet.

Livestock sector

You may be surprised to hear that the livestock sector is the major cause of global deforestation and is responsible for up to 91 percent of Amazon destruction. Trees and forests are destroyed to graze animals and to grow crops to feed those animals.

Very little of the world’s soy crop is used to produce meat substitutes for vegans and vegetarians, a far greater amount ends up in feed for poultry, pork, cattle and even farmed fish. Going vegan would reduce the land needed to produce our food by up to a half.

We could be protecting wildlife here in the UK as well as saving precious habitats in the Amazon. Rewilding some of our land used to farm animals would protect natural habitats, increase biodiversity and help with flood mitigation.

This destruction is one of the reasons that animal agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of livestock. On top of that, the deforestation is a contributing factor to climate change, removing the valuable C02 absorption and storage that trees provide.

Deforestation isn’t the only way that the livestock sector contributes to climate change. The global livestock industry generates as much greenhouse gas as all transport combined. All those car, ship and air miles are outweighed by the preponderance of meat on our plates.

Plant-based diet

This is exacerbated by the fact that animal agriculture is the world’s biggest producer of methane, a far more powerful greenhouse gas than the much maligned CO2. An average cow produces around 700 litres of methane per day – equivalent to the emissions produced by a 4x4 travelling 35 miles a day.

Going vegan can reduce food related emissions by 50 percent. Of course, there are nuances to this, and if your diet is heavy in avocados and almond milk you might need to do some recalculations, but on the whole, we know that veganism is the most carbon friendly ‘off the shelf’ diet.

Those who think they’re making the green choice by switching to free range meat are not solving the environmental crisis. Intensive factory farming may be more problematic than organic, grass fed farming, however, the Oxford report states that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

At a very simple level, eating meat is an incredibly inefficient food source and form of nutrition. We find ourselves in the bizarre situation where for every 100 calories we feed to animals, we only receive 12 calories back from consuming their meat and dairy products. By feeding ourselves with those crops directly, we could feed billions more people around the globe.

More and more esteemed bodies are advocating a move toward a plant-based diet for the reasons outlined.

Real hope

Respected policy institute, Chatham House have stated: “Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the danger level of two degrees Celsius”.

The World Wildlife Fund’s recent report, aptly named Appetite for Destruction, states: “Meat consumption is devastating some of the world’s most valuable and vulnerable regions, due to the vast amount of land needed to produce animal feed.”

Similarly, respected environmentalists, such as Al Gore and George Monbiot, are accepting that eating animal products just isn’t compatible with green living. As Monbiot says, “The livestock industry is inherently no more sustainable than the fossil fuel industry”. When we consider the damage that our current diets inflict on our planet, veganism starts to look less like a whimsical lifestyle choice, and more like a moral imperative.

You can make a change right now that will have an immediate positive benefit to the environment. Try our Plate Up For The Planet challenge and eat a vegan diet for seven days and join the environmental campaign of our time. We’ll send you recipe ideas, hints and tips, and give you a running total of how much CO2 you have saved by not eating animal products. It’s an easy, fun first step, and we’ve already had more than 10,000 people taking up the challenge. Collectively they’ve saved as much CO2 as flying to the moon and back.

As environmentalists, we need to take a joined-up approach to protecting the Earth and its inhabitants. As vegans, we believe that cutting out animal products is a simple, logical step which is essential if we’re to see real hope for the future of our planet.

This Author

Louise Davies is head of campaigns, policy and research at The Vegan Society. 

Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here