The Value of Veganism

There are other ways to change the meat industry


Abby Hernan, Staff Writer

   When a vegan wants to eat something as simple as lasagna, they must make numerous changes to the ingredients. They have to make the pasta without an egg, find vegan cheese to add and use tofu as a meat substitute. Many vegans go through these extra steps so that their diet can be environmentally conscious. The only problem is those changes are not enough to affect the environment. No matter how many individual ingredients are swapped out — or how many individual people change their lifestyles — everything must work together to make a meaningful difference in what is served on the global table. 

   Veganism is the practice of abstaining from any animal products. Often confused with vegetarianism which avoids eating meat, veganism takes the diet to a further extreme. A typical vegan avoids meat, dairy products, eggs and sometimes honey. A very dedicated vegan might even avoid wearing leather, using certain cosmetics or decorating with leather furniture.

   A common reason people are encouraged to become vegan is the belief that it will help the environment and combat the inhumane practices of the meat industry. While veganism can help the environment, the benefits are too minimal to be considered truly impactful.

   The basis of the belief is correct — the meat industry hurts not only animals but also the environment as a whole. A third of the Earth’s ice-free land is currently used to produce meat, and this land is obtained largely through mass deforestation. The space necessary to produce meat far eclipses what’s needed for produce. For example, the same acre can produce 250 pounds of beef or 50,000 pounds of tomatoes, 53,000 pounds of potatoes or 30,000 pounds of carrots.

   The meat industry then uses these lands and places fertilizers, pesticides and other harmful chemicals on them. Currently, meat accounts for 60% of all greenhouse gases produced from food emissions. Even the manure of an animal can release emissions including methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide. In fact, cows collectively produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day.

   The meat industry also overuses resources for their cattle, most notably water. To produce one pound of beef, 2,400 gallons of water is used. That means one pound of beef requires the same amount of water as showering for six months. Recently, a NASA study projected that the likelihood of megadroughts, a drought that lasts ten years or more, is likely to increase from 12% to 60% in the years following 2021. 

   As water becomes more scarce, it is vital that it is being allocated to the right places and preserved properly. The meat industry cannot keep using up water while droughts keep plaguing ecosystems. 

   The meat industry knows the pain they are inflicting on the environment, however, they are more concerned with placing money in their pockets than preserving the planet. According to the New York Times, in order to avoid accountability for their practices that violate USDA regulations, meat industry lobbyists have been pushing for “Ag-gag” legislation. This legislation will make it illegal to document any activity within meat processing plants, therefore, making it impossible to hold the meat industry accountable for their inhumane actions.

   “One of the biggest things with red meat production specifically is that you have to allocate resources to grow crops and to feed cows, and that takes up land and that takes up water and nutrients,” honors biology and AP Environmental Science teacher Emily Massey-Burmeister said. “And then, you have to take up space to actually have the cattle and that is going to require a land space. So on face value, veganism would reduce the amount of space needing to be put into agriculture.”

   While meat production is clearly hurting the environment, going vegan is not the best solution to ending it. 

   After all, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average American consumes around 144 pounds of meat a year. Meat is a staple of the American diet, and a small minority going vegan is not going to make enough of a difference. 

   Veganism is not blind to its lack of effect on a small scale. For its success, it is imperative that a majority of the population make the drastic shift to their diet. This is why vegans are typically stereotyped as pushing veganism on everyone. 

   However, convincing people who find meat necessary to their diet to suddenly cut it out is unrealistic. Veganism is a drastic life shift that requires a lot of motivation to be successful, and trying to find that passion in a majority of people when it doesn’t exist is futile. 

   Also, even if a majority of people could be convinced to make a shift to veganism, it is not accessible for a majority of people. According to the USDA, 10.5% (13.8 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2020. 

   Not only do vegan meals tend to be more expensive, but they also tend to take more effort and time than a regular meal. Most people do not have the resources to put that much effort into eating vegan meals, rather their effort goes into simply finding a meal to eat. 

   To create real change in helping the environment, meat production itself has to change, not the people consuming it. By encouraging the implementation of a sustainable supply chain and encouraging suppliers such as restaurants and grocery stores to only source sustainable products, an actual reduction of greenhouse gases will occur. Some aspects of a sustainable supply chain include incorporating diverse crop rotations for soil health, policy against clearing native ecosystems, creating a nutrient optimization plan in order to prevent excess fertilizer use and creating time-bound goals to reduce carbon emissions. 

   People can advocate for this by joining protests, demanding that the meat industry be transparent with its production and making sure that politicians pass legislation regulating the industry. Also, spreading information about the unjust practices of meat companies will expose the secrets that they desperately try to hide.

   “I think that farming can be done in a sustainable way, but I think that a large part of the farming that happens, especially in the United States, is more of what we call industrialized agriculture, which could [still be done] sustainably within reason,” Massey-Burmeister said. “But a lot of it, unfortunately, I feel like is done in a non-sustainable way.”

   However, while veganism will not fix the meat industry, that does not mean it does not have its benefits. Veganism requires the follower to put time and attention into their food choices which can result in great health benefits. Veganism can promote weight loss, reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels, lower chances of getting certain types of cancer like colon cancer and manage diabetes by lowering A1C levels.

   While veganism is a great diet for people who struggle with their health, it is important to remember that the diet is a big lifestyle change and should be done slowly and with research. If vegans are not actively making sure that they are taking supplements or eating certain foods to guarantee they are getting the proper nutrients, then they face health risks such as strokes, weaker bones, and depression.

   “I recommend that people start slow and transition slowly. It is really hard to become vegan if you completely switch in a day, and it can mess up your body,” junior Levi Simara, who became vegan for its health benefits and has been vegan for eight years, said “I also think a lot of people think that there is not a lot of protein in a vegan diet but that isn’t necessarily true. Beans, legumes, tofu, seitan and tempeh are all good sources of protein.”

   While veganism is a wonderful diet, it is important not to be tricked into believing that a change is being made while the meat industry continues to profit off the destruction of the environment. It’s not about whether you are willing to eat meat or not — it is about whether the meat industry is willing to change.