Veganism has gained immense popularity world over in the past few years. A lot of information is going around about the meat and dairy industry. There are varying views about its impact on animal & human health and the environment in totality.
Research shows that meat & dairy products are fueling the climate crisis, while plant-based diets – focused on fruits, vegetables & beans help protect the planet. One such study states that one third of the global emissions are created by the food industry and meat production is responsible for 50% of this!
First, let’s not ignore the facts about grazing animals. Sustainable farms of livestock farming restore soil & biodiversity. Animal dung helps in returning nutrients & structure to the soil. The grazing livestock not only provides the farmers with an income but animal dung, urine & even the way they graze accelerates soil restoration. This way soil loss can be easily handled in an organic manner. However, meat production is critiqued for its overuse of water supplies, landscape degradation, and greenhouse gas emission.
Plant-based diets have their own downside where crops require high quantities of fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides to provide for large requirements. The whole ecosystem is an interdependent chain.
This interdependence is sustainable, when there is a balance between crop plantation and livestock farming. However, in the current scenario, it has become very lop sided & the consequences can be drastic. This is where the problem lies. Studies show that the livestock sector is one of the top 3 most significant contributors to environmental problems at a local & global scale.
Globally, 26% of the world’s ice-free land surface is given to grazing animals & in total animal culture uses a staggering 83% of agricultural land. Yet all it provides is less than 20% of the calories consumed & less than 40% of protein consumed. Animal farming is the leading cause of rainforest deforestation & the single largest contributor to habitat loss.
Changes in our food systems are essential if we want to avoid making coral reefs disappear, create extreme heat waves, water scarcities, droughts & food shortages for our future generations. A shift is imperative if we want to avoid extinction of species & flooding due to rising sea levels.
Going vegan has become a fad, and rightly so. While people mostly opt for this lifestyle for health or spiritual purposes, not many are aware of the positive environmental impact on our food habits. Going vegan helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is a strong co-relation between climate change & the production of animal-based foods. .
Studies show that 51% of the greenhouse gas emissions are due to animal agriculture – raising & killing animals for food. Animal agriculture is responsible for producing 15-8% of the total greenhouse emissions – this is more than the combined exhausts of all transport globally. Switching to a plant-based diet can reduce agricultural emissions by as much as 73% in high income nations. Studies show that substituting calories from red meat & dairy to plant-based diets for just one day a week saves 0.46 tons of CO2. Just a minor shift on diet can have such a huge positive impact.
Studies also say if the world shifted to a plant-based diet, we could feed every mouth of the planet. We could even reforest and restore land and bring back lost habitats. It is estimated that by returning animal farms to natural vegetation, we could remove approx. 8.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year over the course of 100 years. This amounts to 15% of the world’s total greenhouse emissions. While this may not be realistic, it only highlights the importance of the issue.
However, we need to take in consideration the following – Without carefully considering where our food comes from and how it is grown, our diets can have unintended consequences. Delicate fruits like blueberries and strawberries, for example, are often imported to by air to fill gaps left when local fruit are out of season. Here’s an example to consider – Research by Angelina Frankowska, who studies sustainability at the University of Manchester, recently found that asparagus eaten in the UK has the highest carbon footprint compared to any other vegetable eaten in the country, with 5.3kg of carbon dioxide being produced for every kilogram of asparagus, mainly because much of it is imported by air from Peru.
One way to do this right is by sourcing food locally. Last year saw plenty of new restaurants open with their own kitchen gardens, growing seasonally and cutting out the carbon footprint of long distance transportation. Seasonality – along with plant-based diets – are two huge trends from last year, and they are here to stay and rightly so.