Go vegan, go sustainable

Cutting animal products out of your diet can eliminate water waste and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Last month, I watched the Amazon rainforest, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, erupt into flames, and I couldn’t help but think about its causes.

Since the 1960s, the Amazon has been the victim of man-made deforestation and land-clearing for the sake of livestock production. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of beef, and more than 50 percent of the country’s livestock live on fields that used to be rainforests, according to Business Insider.

That means that every cheeseburger contributes to deforestation and ecosystem destruction in places like the Amazon.

There is something that we can do to prevent this from happening in the future: stop eating animal products.

Going vegan, or even reducing your meat and dairy intake, can have massive positive effects on our environment, and on the security of ecosystems like the Amazon.

There is a huge misconception of what veganism is. But at its core, veganism simply means abstaining from all meat, dairy and other animal products for ethical and health reasons.

“You’re saving a lot more resources, whether it’s fossil fuels or water,” said Jessica Harrington, a senior media studies and production major with a minor in sustainable food systems, and the founder and president of the TU Ecological Eating Club, which raises awareness of food issues and environmental justice. 

“Give or take the amount of almond milk you drink, you’re still going to be using less water because your food doesn’t need to be raised [or transported],” she added. 

Additionally, more evidence is being presented to show that consuming meat on a daily basis is detrimental to our planet’s resource supply. 

Tossing out a single hamburger uses the same amount of water as a 90-minute shower, due to the water being used for irrigation and cleaning for livestock, The National Resources Defense Council reported in 2017.

Additionally, the top five meat and dairy companies combined (JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Fonterra and Dairy Farmers of America) emit more greenhouse gases annually than ExxonMobil, Shell or BP, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. 

Going vegan has the power to shift meat production and its emissions through boycotting animal agriculture and influencing supply and demand patterns with purchasing power.

“It does fall on the shoulders of consumers to speak up, and to use their money to say that the current practices aren’t right,” said Erin Mecchi, a hub coordinator for the Sunrise Movement and a vegan of almost four years.

This means that it falls on us, as consumers, to use our dollars to buy products that won’t waste an exorbitant amount of water or other resources.

“It’s important to look at consumers, what they are buying and what is going to waste,” said Amelia Duffy-Tumasz, a professor of geography and urban studies with a focus on human-environment interactions and political ecology.

Our food consumption patterns are impacting the earth, and the notable implications of meat consumption and food waste on our resources are going to continue rising if we do not recover from this damaging cycle. 

Our dietary habits have a bigger impact on the environment than we may think, and it’s time to use our purchasing power for good.

1 Comment

  1. If reducing one’s environmental and animal impact is the goal, then the best plan requires more nuance than the simple mantra “eat no meat” allows. While veganism is certainly a step forward in this regard compared to a meat-based, agriculturally produced diet, it does fail in two respects.

    To start, veganism assumes that anything plant is environmentally friendly–hence the misconception of the “cruelty-free” meal. In fact, every plant-based food requires land to grow–land that should sustain wild plant and animal communities. But the first step in establishing ag fields is to plow under and eliminate every species capable of competing with or consuming the crops to be grown. In this manner, entire ecosystems are destroyed. Contributing to the damage is the efforts by farmers to keep their efforts safe from the appetites of marauding pests, with the result that even the animals in surrounding wild lands (if any remain) are eliminated as necessary to achieve that goal. Consider the millions of acres of forest, grassland and wetland converted to exotic mono-culture that serves only man; the billions of pounds of chemicals dumped into our air, water and soil, and the trillions of gallons of fresh water diverted from sensitive aquatic systems–all for agricultural purpose. It is no wonder that agriculture has become the foremost cause of extinction, world-wide, as well as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions destined to alter our environment for millennia.

    Certainly, much of this impact can be reduced–hence the justification for reducing the amount of beef in one’s diet. But this effort should not ignore the damage inflicted by plant-based foods. Growing almonds and cashews requires more water than growing chicken, for example. Many of the items on our vegan “favorites” list are, like beef, very destructive relative to our more responsible options. Yet, in its haste to eliminate animal-based foods, veganism completely ignores (or even attempts to conceal) this double standard. It is not only the omnivore who inflicts unnecessary harm in order to please his palate.

    A second point of failure lies in the rejection of wild fish and game, taken in a sustainable manner from undisturbed lands. A deer taken from the field, for example, is immediately replaced by another of the next generation that would die if not for the resources freed by the removal of the first. Nature always breeds more animals than habitat can support and the rest perish of disease or starvation whether we consume them or not. To consume the excess in wild populations before they die of other causes inflicts no harm on these populations and, more importantly, leaves habitat intact to support future generations of game and non-game species. Agriculture, which destroys every single individual, of every single species on the landscape, can make no such claim.

    Certainly, wild fish and game cannot support the entire human population, but, to the extent that it remains available to rural communities, it should be used in a sustainable, well-regulated manner to ensure that our reliance on more destructive, agricultural practices are minimized.

    For now, veganism and environmentalism are not exactly on the same page. Happily, many consumers are aware of this distinction and are choosing environmentally friendly foods, both plant and animal.

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