The global population continues to increase and our ability to feed everyone on this planet has been difficult for quite some time. Arable land is a critical issue, as approximately 40,000 square miles are lost each year, largely due to deforestation. In addition, the supply of clean water is becoming scarce and conflicts over water rights are prevalent in many regions.
A topic that is increasingly raised these days involves the resources required to raise livestock for providing meat, dairy products and eggs, as well as the strain on our oceans from over fishing, and the question often asked is whether or not the practice of eating meat and fish is sustainable over the long term. At what point can the planet no longer support the population?
Time for a disclaimer – I’m not vegan, though I try to limit my meat and fish consumption to a moderate amount and focus on whole grains, fruits and vegetables in my diet. That said, cheese is the one area that I have the hardest time with. I’ve often thought that I could live without meat, and even eggs, but the magic of bread, cheese & wine would be a difficult sacrifice.
But I often run into people who are vegan, especially in Southern California, and my son-in-law is vegan, so it’s only natural that I would be curious about what it all means. From Vegan Action:
A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is someone who, for various reasons, chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products. While vegetarians choose not to use flesh foods, vegans also avoid dairy and eggs, as well as fur, leather, wool, down, and cosmetics or chemical products tested on animals.
Veganism, the natural extension of vegetarianism, is an integral component of a cruelty-free lifestyle. Living vegan provides numerous benefits to animals’ lives, to the environment, and to our own health-through a healthy diet and lifestyle.
My assumption had always been that the choice to go vegan was made for either health reasons, reduced chance of disease, or out of respect for animals, believing that it is unnecessary to kill animals for food. While this is has proven true for the vegans I’ve encountered, another reason mentioned more frequently over the past few years is sustainability.
The Price Of Eating Meat
What is clear from reading about the process of raising animals for food (meat, milk, eggs) is the level of strain such practices put on the environment. The amount of land required, the significant use of water and the volume of feed that must be grown all take their toll on the planet.
Can veganism solve this problem? Such a lifestyle is often credited with lowering the risk of colon cancer, heart attack, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, prostate cancer, and stroke when contrasted to diets high in fats and sugars – but lately the drumbeat has grown louder that as our population continues to increase the planet is becoming less able to support demands placed on both natural resources and the food supply.
Founded in Britain on November 1, 1944, by Donald Watson, the Vegan Society has been very vocal on the environmental aspects of including animal products in our lifestyle.
People are increasingly becoming aware of the direct correlation between what they eat every day and the health of the planet. Environmentally conscious consumers are concerned not only with food miles, over-packaging, pesticide use and GM foods, but also question the environmental sustainability of modern animal husbandry. Farmers used to be seen as ‘custodian’s of the countryside,’ but the overriding image of modern industrial farming is one of destruction and waste.
Is The Situation Really This Bad?
According to the United Nations the situation is one that needs to be addressed. Read their full report for some valuable insights as to the changes which have occurred between 1980 and 2004. What is interesting to note is the rapid increase in meat consumption within the developing world. (Due to the extensive nature of this report, and the surrounding issues, this important topic will be covered in-depth with a future blog post.)
Industrial livestock production in developing countries often causes severe environmental damages, especially when meat and dairy factories are crowded together around cities or close to water resources, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has warned.
Issues outlined in the report include:
- Eutrophication of surface water
- Leaching of nitrates and pathogens into groundwater
- Buildups of excess nutrients and heavy metals in the soil
- Release of ammonia, methane and other gases into the air
- Destruction of fragile ecosystems, such as wetlands, mangrove swamps and coral reefs
Watch This Video
What inspired this article was a friend sending me a link to the following video from A Life Connected. I’m not here to promote or validate this presentation, but merely offer it as a way to stimulate thought on the subject. Do your own research to determine what works for you, but the topic is important enough that we need to all think about the choices we make in our lives.
What are your thoughts on the need for society to adopt a Vegan lifestyle?