Is Vegan The Answer To Sustainability?

by Mark Lovett on February 22, 2009

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.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

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.

Argentina Farm Crisis

AP Photo/Leonardo Zavattaro/Telam

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?

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

chhavi February 11, 2010 at 7:03 pm

I’m a lacto-vegetarian, and had been eating eggs sometimes in my childhood, and then one day my father who never had eggs or any meats told me “hey now you should quit eating eggs”. And that day I decided to quit eating eggs. I can remeber his expression now also after some 25 years.
If we look at the pictures of hubble telescope and surface of other planets, surely we would find our earth as heavan or even better.
Lets let it be that way only. We should be considerate for our earth, our flora and fauna, our localities, our family and our bodies.

Reply

chhavi February 12, 2010 at 3:03 am

I’m a lacto-vegetarian, and had been eating eggs sometimes in my childhood, and then one day my father who never had eggs or any meats told me “hey now you should quit eating eggs”. And that day I decided to quit eating eggs. I can remeber his expression now also after some 25 years.
If we look at the pictures of hubble telescope and surface of other planets, surely we would find our earth as heavan or even better.
Lets let it be that way only. We should be considerate for our earth, our flora and fauna, our localities, our family and our bodies.

Reply

Luke July 8, 2009 at 12:12 am

I have recenly adopted a vegan diet for all of the reasons mentioned in the video. It can be a great challange in our culture and society, but it’s a challange that I quite enjoy.
My hope is that more people become aware of the facts and enjoy doing something good for our world.
We need more restaurants and markets with vegetarian and vegan values!

Reply

Global Patriot July 8, 2009 at 6:09 pm

I agree that restaurants should take the lead on this topic, if only offering one vegan option on their menu, it gives people a choice.

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Luke July 8, 2009 at 7:12 am

I have recenly adopted a vegan diet for all of the reasons mentioned in the video. It can be a great challange in our culture and society, but it’s a challange that I quite enjoy.
My hope is that more people become aware of the facts and enjoy doing something good for our world.
We need more restaurants and markets with vegetarian and vegan values!

Reply

GlobalPatriot July 9, 2009 at 1:09 am

I agree that restaurants should take the lead on this topic, if only offering one vegan option on their menu, it gives people a choice.

Reply

pays to live green March 10, 2009 at 10:03 am

In order to live a more sustainable lifestyle, we don’t necessarily have to become vegans, but reduce our consumption of meat and meat products as you suggested. I am not a vegetarian, but have cut back my meat consumption, especially in terms of beef and pork. Both chicken and fish have a far lighter impact on the environment. In my opinion, eating more local fruits and vegetables in the key to sustainability in our country.

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Global Patriot March 10, 2009 at 6:16 pm

You bring up a good point, as many have advocated a reduced consumption of meat while moving toward a mainly vegetable diet. Not a complete switch, just a shift.

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pays to live green March 10, 2009 at 6:03 pm

In order to live a more sustainable lifestyle, we don’t necessarily have to become vegans, but reduce our consumption of meat and meat products as you suggested. I am not a vegetarian, but have cut back my meat consumption, especially in terms of beef and pork. Both chicken and fish have a far lighter impact on the environment. In my opinion, eating more local fruits and vegetables in the key to sustainability in our country.

Reply

GlobalPatriot March 11, 2009 at 1:16 am

You bring up a good point, as many have advocated a reduced consumption of meat while moving toward a mainly vegetable diet. Not a complete switch, just a shift.

Reply

Paul @ Green Pepper March 3, 2009 at 10:57 pm

Great article Mark, and one close to my heart. I was vegan for about 5 years, some time ago, out of respect for animals but abandoned it whilst I was travelling (it’s difficult to refuse hospitality on the grounds of your own beliefs or principles – especially when you’re hungry!).

Since then I’ve continued to eat meat and fish – though, like you, I limit my intake, and only eat animal produce in moderation (cheese and eggs are tough to do without altogether!).

The destruction of rainforests, particularly in South America, for grazing cattle and growing soya for livestock elsewhere in the world, is disastrous and short-sighted, in the extreme. That alone is reason enough to reduce our consumption of meat and, combined with concerns for animal welfare and healthy living, it’s all the reason we need.

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GlobalPatriot March 4, 2009 at 1:19 am

People rarely make the connection between rainforest destruction and the production of meat for consumption by the developed world, but it is a very real problem that we need to face in light of population increases around the globe.

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Paul @ Green Pepper March 3, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Great article Mark, and one close to my heart. I was vegan for about 5 years, some time ago, out of respect for animals but abandoned it whilst I was travelling (it’s difficult to refuse hospitality on the grounds of your own beliefs or principles – especially when you’re hungry!).

Since then I’ve continued to eat meat and fish – though, like you, I limit my intake, and only eat animal produce in moderation (cheese and eggs are tough to do without altogether!).

The destruction of rainforests, particularly in South America, for grazing cattle and growing soya for livestock elsewhere in the world, is disastrous and short-sighted, in the extreme. That alone is reason enough to reduce our consumption of meat and, combined with concerns for animal welfare and healthy living, it’s all the reason we need.

Reply

Global Patriot March 3, 2009 at 6:19 pm

People rarely make the connection between rainforest destruction and the production of meat for consumption by the developed world, but it is a very real problem that we need to face in light of population increases around the globe.

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buddha of hollywood February 24, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Without controlling the population explosion nothing will stop humanity from crisis. Interesting argument but it should explore more than one alternative.

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Global Patriot February 25, 2009 at 6:23 pm

The issue of population increase is a delicate one, due cultural and religious views, but at some point we will have to address the fact that the earth cannot sustain unlimited population growth.

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buddha of hollywood February 25, 2009 at 5:56 am

Without controlling the population explosion nothing will stop humanity from crisis. Interesting argument but it should explore more than one alternative.

Reply

GlobalPatriot February 26, 2009 at 1:23 am

The issue of population increase is a delicate one, due cultural and religious views, but at some point we will have to address the fact that the earth cannot sustain unlimited population growth.

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Grace Boyle February 23, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Great topic. There’s obviously a lot of debate around being vegan in terms of sustainability, our economy and of course the choices we make such as our intake of food. I’ve been vegetarian my entire life. I was just raised that way and because I’ve never had a hamburger, I would never think twice. This has helped me because my choices are organic, I can buy local and even health wise I’ve never had any problems. Although I’m not a vegan (sometimes I sway) I still feel like my personal choice is helping not only myself, but on a larger level. Well-written, I enjoyed it Mark.

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Global Patriot February 24, 2009 at 6:25 pm

It’s interesting to note the strong connection between vegan / vegetarian and choosing organic. I’m hoping that those who consume meat will not reject the need for moving toward organic sources of nutrition.

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Grace Boyle February 24, 2009 at 2:00 am

Great topic. There’s obviously a lot of debate around being vegan in terms of sustainability, our economy and of course the choices we make such as our intake of food. I’ve been vegetarian my entire life. I was just raised that way and because I’ve never had a hamburger, I would never think twice. This has helped me because my choices are organic, I can buy local and even health wise I’ve never had any problems. Although I’m not a vegan (sometimes I sway) I still feel like my personal choice is helping not only myself, but on a larger level. Well-written, I enjoyed it Mark.

Reply

GlobalPatriot February 25, 2009 at 1:25 am

It’s interesting to note the strong connection between vegan / vegetarian and choosing organic. I’m hoping that those who consume meat will not reject the need for moving toward organic sources of nutrition.

Reply

Bud Hennekes February 23, 2009 at 4:55 pm

What a wonderful article Mark..

Much of my life I have consumed meat not knowing the effects my choice had on this planet. I still eat meat, but am today more conscious of the decision.

I have been increasingly interested in the idea of coming Raw. This no doubt is a radical lifestyle change but I think it would be a wonderful experience both for the world and myself.

I would wish to expand upon my comment but I have to go to my next class. :)

Again fantastic article. Changing what we eat CAN change the world. :)

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Global Patriot February 24, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Good point Bud, as the Raw movement is gaining a lot of supporters who feel that food should be consumed as close to the earth as possible.

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Bud Hennekes February 24, 2009 at 12:55 am

What a wonderful article Mark..

Much of my life I have consumed meat not knowing the effects my choice had on this planet. I still eat meat, but am today more conscious of the decision.

I have been increasingly interested in the idea of coming Raw. This no doubt is a radical lifestyle change but I think it would be a wonderful experience both for the world and myself.

I would wish to expand upon my comment but I have to go to my next class. :)

Again fantastic article. Changing what we eat CAN change the world. :)

Reply

GlobalPatriot February 25, 2009 at 1:27 am

Good point Bud, as the Raw movement is gaining a lot of supporters who feel that food should be consumed as close to the earth as possible.

Reply

Diane at Lose-weight-for-life.com February 22, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Great article. I adopted a vegan diet for health reasons upon the advice of a holistic doctor. Not only did my health improve, but I lost 30 pounds without trying. A vegan diet is the answer to so many issues in today’s society. Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

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Global Patriot February 23, 2009 at 6:29 pm

You make an interesting point Diane, as I can’t recall anyone eating a vegan diet who is overweight. That could have a significant impact on our health care system.

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Diane at Lose-weight-for-life. February 23, 2009 at 1:35 am

Great article. I adopted a vegan diet for health reasons upon the advice of a holistic doctor. Not only did my health improve, but I lost 30 pounds without trying. A vegan diet is the answer to so many issues in today’s society. Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

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GlobalPatriot February 24, 2009 at 1:29 am

You make an interesting point Diane, as I can’t recall anyone eating a vegan diet who is overweight. That could have a significant impact on our health care system.

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Renee Viterstedt February 22, 2009 at 4:12 pm

A wonderful issue to bring up because if the Earth cannot take the stress we are putting on it we will have to come up with other options. The extreme being if we are forced to travel in space to find another planet there is much evidence that we will need to become vegetarian on the spaceships. The irony being that Earth is our current “spaceship” and it could endure humans longer if we cut out meat.

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Global Patriot February 23, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I hadn’t thought of that aspect, but if we needed to explore space in order to find a new home there would not be any animals on board the spaceship. The key, as you point out, is to monitor how much stress the consumption of meat puts on the earth.

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Renee Viterstedt February 22, 2009 at 11:12 pm

A wonderful issue to bring up because if the Earth cannot take the stress we are putting on it we will have to come up with other options. The extreme being if we are forced to travel in space to find another planet there is much evidence that we will need to become vegetarian on the spaceships. The irony being that Earth is our current “spaceship” and it could endure humans longer if we cut out meat.

Reply

GlobalPatriot February 24, 2009 at 1:33 am

I hadn’t thought of that aspect, but if we needed to explore space in order to find a new home there would not be any animals on board the spaceship. The key, as you point out, is to monitor how much stress the consumption of meat puts on the earth.

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