Vegans are sometimes mischaracterized as simply being picky eaters. However, there’s also a side to veganism that people searching for meaning in life can get behind — being responsible stewards of planet Earth. In fact, many vegans are motivated by sustainability, and you don’t need to be vegan all of the time in order to reduce your reliance on animal products.
Here’s how making plant-based foods a part of your diet can benefit the planet:
Benefit #1: Lower Food Miles
Nations around the world are implementing ambitious goals to curb humanity’s wasteful habits. This means taking a long hard look at what we consume, and how it gets to our plates.
Eating food that has not had to travel over long distances can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. One potential benefit of veganism is that it is often easier to become a locavore. This means sourcing your food within your immediate geographic region. Many locavores define this range as 100–250 miles.
Food with lower food miles often tastes better, as well. There are a few ways you can start eating fresh, local, and vegan. First, visit your local farmer’s market for seasonal delights. Second, buy a CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription. Finally, purchase pantry essentials locally when possible.
Seeking out local sources of vegetables, particularly CSAs, also has the added benefit of exposing you to vegetables you may not have ever eaten — or even heard of — before. You may find yourself becoming a more adventurous home cook and even discovering new favorites!
Benefit #2: Reducing Resource Burnout
Modern agricultural and ranching activities strip the soil of vital nutrients. In addition, one-third of food produced in the world is wasted. According to UC Davis, growing food takes up a whopping 70 percent of the earth’s water, 20 percent of its land resources, and 32 percent of the world’s energy production.
The solution is clear — going vegan can do wonders for the environment. Let’s compare exactly how going plant-based can reduce resource burnout. Two pounds of beef takes over 4,000 gallons of water to produce. One pound of kidney beans takes up just 10 percent of that amount.
In addition to conserving water, vegan foods can directly combat world hunger, feeding greater numbers of people. Think of the huge amount of energy and resources needed to make enough animal feed and fertilizers for the entire world. Redirecting land use from ranching to farming would sustain up to 4 billion more people.
In 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared land to be a critical resource. Specifically, its report made a direct link between land management and climate change.
“Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change.” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.
On the other hand, livestock alone makes up 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. This means that incorporating more vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and fruits into our diets can significantly lower our carbon footprints. It’s also delicious (just ask any farm to table chef).
Benefit #3: Preserving Biodiversity
Over 37,400 species are at risk of extinction. The time is running out to preserve them.
Take fisheries. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of fish stocks have been overexploited. Humans are also actively contributing to the acidification of the world’s oceans — which puts the remaining marine population in grave danger. In addition, overfishing results in the loss of coral reefs, mangroves, and other essential habitats.
Veganism is a great way to preserve species on land as well. Ranching is a well-known habitat destroyer. In the Amazon, the activity accounts for 80 percent of deforestation. Preserving forests is essential to preserving the area’s rich biodiversity. Think of all the organisms that are at risk for a single source of meat.
Going vegan is a clear choice for preserving the health of the planet. We can slow the pace of extinction by going vegan if possible, or even by increasing the amount of plant-based foods we eat and reducing the amount of animal products in our diets. Yet due to the industrial food complex, it’s easy for many to feel disconnected from nature. The truth is that we all play a vital role in our ecosystem. Even observing Meatless Mondays is a step in the right direction.
Countless studies show how going plant-based can help ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the earth’s resources for years to come.