Try Veganism for a Week

Veganism is beneficial in many ways. Photo courtesy of Discover Magazine.

Veganism is beneficial in many ways. Photo courtesy of Discover Magazine.

When you ask most Americans their favorite food, chances are they will name a dish with animal-based ingredients. But did you know that eating animal-based foods is terrible for the environment? Meat production creates a huge impact on the environment, be it deforestation and forest fires, water and land use, or greenhouse gas emissions. Many overlook the negative effects of their diet, believing that one person couldn’t make a significant difference. 

The truth is that everyone can make a difference. Veganism is the starting point for healthier lives and having a positive impact on climate change. 

Becoming vegan has an immediate and positive impact on one’s health. The leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease: around 655,000 people die from it every year. According to a 2020 study from Northwestern Medicine and Cornell University, just two servings of red meat, poultry, or processed meat per week create a higher risk of heart or cardiovascular disease. Additional recent studies from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Harvard Medical School support the conclusion that meat consumption is linked to heart disease.

In addition to the positive health benefits of veganism, the environment would enormously benefit from fewer animal-based diets. Deforestation, forest fires, excessive water use, and greenhouse gas emissions are all negative results of the demand for meat and poultry products. The New York Times reports that livestock accounts for 14.5% of the world’s total carbon emissions. This is equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide released from cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships combined worldwide; and yet, although there are ongoing debates about imposing carbon taxes on transportation, very few people propose imposing a similar tax on the meat and dairy industry. 

Of course, we need to eat something, and any food production has some impact on the environment. The question is, which diet has the smallest impact on the environment? A quick comparison of the amount of carbon dioxide released for every 50g of protein is illuminating. Producing 50g of protein from beef emits 17.7kg of carbon dioxide, while tofu releases just 1.0kg. Dairy products aren’t much better: producing 50g of protein from cheese generates 5.4kg, whereas nuts generate only 0.1kg. 

Carbon dioxide isn’t the only greenhouse gas associated with meat production—raising livestock also creates enormous amounts of methane. There is bacteria within the stomachs of cows, pigs, and sheep that help digest grass, but also produce methane that takes a toll on the environment when released into the atmosphere. Indeed, livestock worldwide produce methane equivalent to 3.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, and the effects are evident in global warming and climate change. Reducing consumption of animal-based products can cut down on greenhouse gas emission. 

Emission of greenhouse gases isn’t the only abysmal side effect of producing meat or dairy products. The industry’s demand for land use causes another problem: deforestation, which can lead to forest fires. A report from scientists at the University of Maryland found that tropical forests lost 61,000 square miles due to deforestation in 2017. Furthermore, the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the biggest driver for deforestation is demand for beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products. Forests are often cleared for land use through burning: as seen these past few years, those fires can grow and spread, burning even more trees. Imagine the sheer amount of carbon released into the atmosphere when removing all those trees. Over time, reducing one’s meat and dairy intake can reduce the likelihood of forest fires caused by deforestation.

Not many Americans believe a vegan diet would be easy to maintain. So instead of thinking of the foods one cannot eat, think of the positive effects your actions will have on your health and on the environment. Simply by decreasing the amount of meat and dairy products that one consumes could decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the pace of deforestation. If more people partly replaced meat and dairy products in their diet, average carbon emissions could reduce by 25-35%, the New York Times reports. Vegetarian diets could reduce emissions by 22-38% and a fully vegan diet could reduce emissions associated with food production by 35-55%. One person’s diet can make a massive difference, and when there are so many positive effects, why not give it a try?