Protecting the Environment with Veganism

Screen Shot 2019-07-28 at 9.50.56 AMBy Leigh Morrow

Today at my local farmers market, a woman walked by carrying a burlap produce bag that said, “Eat the change you wish to see in the world” – a new twist on “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  If you haven’t noticed, veganism has gone mainstream.

Choosing Your Diet

What we eat, or choose not to eat, is the new badge of our environmental consciousness. The food we buy and consume has changed from a choice about personal health to a more altruistic decision to help our planet’s health.  This is how people are demonstrating their deep concern over global warming and, even more importantly, making a difference in the seemingly insurmountable fight to arrest climate change.

If you thought owning a Tesla was a positive effort for the planet, many of us are realizing that changing our diet can do far more good than changing our use of trains, planes and automobiles combined.

Animal Agriculture

Right now, there about three times as many animals being raised for meat than all the humans in the world.  Livestock production is responsible for between 14 and 18.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions as animals burp and pass gas, particularly ruminants like cows, buffalo, sheep, and goats. Cows alone are responsible for the majority of methane release, which is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in heating the atmosphere.

As our population increases and our love affair with meat continues, climate change will occur at a faster and faster rate – make no mistake about this.  Industrial scale agriculture – especially animal-based agriculture – is one of the leading causes of deforestation leading to species extinction, waterway pollution and fish kills, and ocean dead zones.  Global animal agriculture is responsible for 57% of water pollution and 56% of air pollution, and uses a third of our fresh water.

Deforestation is a massive problem. We are destroying countless acres to grow soy and corn for livestock food or to create grazing land for cattle, often in very sensitive ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest. Pesticides and fertilizers, most of which are made from fossil fuels, are often used in growing cattle feed. In addition, the deforestation leads to excess mineralization of streams and rivers flowing out of the Amazon basin, which scientists now believe that, combined with other factors, has resulted in the growth of sargassum – a foul rotten-egg smelling mass of yellow seaweed that is now suffocating the Mexican shoreline from Tulum north to Belize, and strangling tourism dollars all across the Caribbean as people opt for cleaner beaches away from the sargassum flows.

On a very practical level, growing animals for food is inefficient, as it takes 5-7 kilograms of grain to produce a single kilo of beef, not to mention the water and energy to produce, process and transport those cows to slaughter and the meat racks.  With grazing and growing livestock feed combined, livestock production uses about 80% of arable land worldwide, yet livestock provides only 18% of calories and 37% of protein. 

More Vegan/Vegetarian Options

As a long-time vegetarian who has had few menu options, it’s surprisingly to now see plant-based burgers and patties jumping off the billboards of major fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s and Wendy’s. They didn’t start including the plant alternatives for all us vegetarians, but rather the tsunami of customers who are demanding plant alternatives to help wean themselves off meat as they choose environmentally beneficial foods.  (We also need to switch from milk, cheese and butter if we are to keep reducing our carbon footprint.) The new vegan choices are staggering to someone who is pretty well versed on what has typically been missing in mainstream grocery stores.

Food manufacturers are scrambling to get new products on the shelf in an effort to recoup lost revenue from traditional streams and gain new loyalty from consumers eager to buy these new vegan items. As consumers we do vote with our wallets every time we push our carts down the aisle. We would do well to spend less time buying food that has travelled vast distances for food produced locally. Buying and eating food that is less travelled helps the planet and begins to support a sustainable food supply system closer to home.

Grow Your Own

We also need to start feeding ourselves, something we have forgotten in our daily rat race. We need to learn or relearn to grow vegetables during our zone’s prime growing seasons, which could well be shifting with new weather patterns. We need to grow our produce organically, and achieve maximum results relying on natural insecticides like companion planting and natural fertilizers like fermented borage leaves, eggshells or coffee grounds. Not to mention composting!  We need to resuscitate the arts of food preservation – freezing, canning, pickling and drying – so when we grow plenty, none will be wasted. A plant-based diet, or at least a good attempt at one, will give our planet a better chance to slow the acceleration towards climate catastrophe. 

As the current situation of life on earth clearly shows, we need to be thinking about the future of the planet, and how we can live in harmony with that future.  Growing our own food will give us important skills for survival. We are what we eat, but the correlation doesn’t stop there. The fate of the planet depends on what we choose to consume.

Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer who owns and operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the coastal village of San Agustinillo, Mexico. Her house can be rented at www.gosanagustinillo.com

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