Since 1970, thanks to a peace activist John McConnel, every April 22 people celebrate the Earth Day. Protecting the environment, raising awareness on environmental issues, honoring the Earth, and creating a more sustainable future were some of the reasons for launching a modern environmental movement.
We all know the drill — use energy efficient light bulbs, take shorter showers, support the clean energy, get a hybrid car, and follow the three Rs (reuse, reduce, recycle). But could there be something that has a significant impact on the environment and we could practice it on a daily basis? The answer is yes, and it is right in front of you. To be specific, it is on your plate. More and more studies are arguing in favor of a plant-based diet as the most environmentally friendly and least resource-demanding diet.
To begin with, I would like to shortly share my story towards veganism. Growing up in the Czech Republic, there had always been lot of meat and dairy products on my plate. When I moved to Prague to study at AAU, I challenged myself to a meat-free month. One month turned into several months and I felt good. At that time, I was still consuming dairy products but as I became more interested in nutrition and health aspects of one’s diet, I slowly began to reduce dairy products and eggs.
As for the ethical side of the plant-based diet, dairy products seem to me equally unethical as meat, if not more. Several behavioral studies are highlighting the disruption of a strong relationship between a cow and a calf. And why is that? For many of you, as was for me, the following could be bewildering. In order for the cow to lactate (= produce milk), it is artificially impregnated. After birth, the calf is taken away from the mother so that it would not be “stealing” the milk from dairy industry. At around fourth or fifth cycle of impregnation, the cow’s body, being under immense pressure to produce more and more milk, becomes unprofitable for the industry and is shipped to a slaughterhouse. In the natural environment cows can live up to 15 to 20 years, while the standard here is cut to one forth of its natural life span.
People may also question whether the plant-based diet is heathy. It is indeed and it was confirmed by many dietary associations. For instance, a position of the American Dietetic Association is that, “Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Every 5 years the USDA updates its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee providing information on, “current scientific evidence on topics related to diet, nutrition, and health.” This year’s report was the first to consider environmental impacts of one’s diet. Agricultural business accused the report of being misleading and lacking sufficient scientific evidence.
An analysis conducted by Environmental Working Group compared agricultural products and came with captivating results. For instance, it mentioned that red meat causes 10 to 40 times more greenhouse gas emissions, compared to a vegetable and grain dish.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization assessed the carbon footprint of different diets and found out that around 18% of all global emission is caused by the animal agriculture, which is more than the entire transportation sector combined.
An average family uses approximately 1500 liters of water on a daily basis. However, this number does not consider the water that is required for our food. If all four family members had a cheeseburger for dinner, the amount of water per that day would rise to about 26500 liters.
This is because the production, processing and distribution of meat requires huge outlays of pesticides, as well as fertilizers, fuel, feed and water while releasing greenhouse gases, manure and a range of toxic chemicals into our air and water, according to Sarasota Jason from Earth Talk in Environmental Magazine.
Nitrous Oxide, a greenhouse gas, is roughly 260 times more destructive than CO2, caused by livestock of up to 65%.
Livestock is also the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest and accounts for 90%. Land use for livestock cover also near half of Earth’s total land, with understandably more land needed for a conventionally eating person.
By taking out animal products from my diet I also became an environmentalist. I am proud to say that today I am vegan for the animals, the environment and for myself.
By Martin Ranninger