This article has two aims: to inform and to challenge.
As to the former, the evidence is clear: The way we produce meat, milk and eggs is unsustainable.
According to the United Nations report “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” the worldwide farmed animal industry generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks and other forms of transportation combined. It is also a major source of land and water degradation and reduced biodiversity. The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production found the farmed animal industry responsible for an “increase in the pool of antibiotic-resistant bacteria because of the overuse of antibiotics, air quality problems and the contamination of rivers, streams and coastal waters with concentrated animal waste.” And, in 2010, a report published by the United Nations Environment Programme urged a global shift toward a vegan diet to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.
Now to the challenge: Eating meat, dairy and eggs is a totally unnecessary activity. According to the conservative American Dietetic Association, a vegan diet is appropriate for all stages of the life cycle. In fact, evidence suggests that it may offer protection against many degenerative diseases.
We don’t need to eat meat, dairy and eggs then. It’s a choice we make.
So why do we do make that choice? We like the taste. It’s a bit more convenient. We’ve always done it. But is that really it? Taste, convenience and habit?
To answer that question we should put it up against the costs of making that choice. Is it worth it? If this was merely personal behavior, it might be. But it isn’t.
Most of the meat, dairy and eggs you eat come from the farmed animal industry responsible for all the damage described above. Your choice is causing harm to the environment and, well, everybody else. By supporting this industry you are, in a sense, causing that harm. Causing harm when you don’t need to is wrong. Eating meat, dairy and eggs isn’t necessary, so the harm you are causing isn’t necessary. So you should make a different choice and go vegan.
I want to make this challenge even more targeted. “Going green” means changing your behavior in ways that are more environmentally responsible. And we are asked to do so by environmentalists. Unplug appliances when you’re not using them. Take shorter showers. Walk or bike to work. Recycle. This is a pretty typical list.
Well, given the evidence, why isn’t moving toward veganism on the menu, so to speak? Is that considered too radical, too demanding a change, perhaps?
This concern makes some sense for advocacy reasons. “Roll down your car windows instead of using the AC to save the environment” is seemingly a less challenging request than “Go vegan to save the environment.” But for the environmentalist, it simply doesn’t work.
Deciding not to eat meat, eggs and dairy is one of the most — probably the most — significant changes you can make. It certainly has a more significant impact than buying a Prius. Going vegan is as simple as changing to a compact fluorescent light bulb. You simply choose the black bean burger instead of the animal-derived alternative.
If the environmentalist chooses otherwise then how can she ask anybody to change any behavior? Be the example. If you really are an environmentalist, every time you sit down to a steak dinner, you are probably in direct conflict with your ethics.
There you have it. For most of us, our food choices are, quite literally, destroying the planet. There’s the information. The challenge should be obvious.
Alex Melonas is the president of the Temple Vegan Action Network. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science.