Nurture Nature

The effect of the vegetarian and vegan diet on the environment

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“The world is your oyster,” Shakespeare wrote in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Shakespeare suggests, with a symbolic shellfish, that the inhabitants of earth can survive and even thrive from the resources it fruitfully provides. And they have; humans most specifically. We have thrived so vastly that an autograph has been left by us for all to see. This bold, cursive autograph presents itself in the form of greenhouse gasses and ultimately, in the slow destruction of the planet Earth. The world has basically become a large scale farm, divided up into cities and forests. About 40 percent of the world’s land-surface is used as a means to keep a table of 7 billion fed–feeding some more than others.

“Livestock production–including meat, milk, and eggs–serves as income for nearly 1.3 billion people, contributes 4 percent of global agricultural gross domestic product, and uses more than one third of the world’s fresh water,” said Brian Walsh, TIME Magazine contributor for the Ecocentric column. “No other human activity has a greater impact on the Earth than that of raising livestock.”

Humans are content with taking and taking, more and more, and as a result, it’s been forgotten that too much of a good thing can result in destruction. In ancient times, this type of precaution was unnecessary. Our ancestors hunted and prepared their food in the most raw ways possible, leaving behind only the remains of the animal they preyed upon. Technological advancements have made production quicker and easier, but also have made the production’s byproduct multiply more quickly and easily. Not only have humans become lazy in obtaining these resources, but in cleaning up the mess it creates as well.

However, nature has provided a simplistic solution: vegetarianism and veganism. Examination of the harmful effects of animal cultivation and consumption on the environment reveals that vegetarian, vegan and other altered lifestyles help reduce the outcome of animal cultivation on the Earth.

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. Vegetarian and veganism are both a diet in the sense of eating and a philosophical lifestyle about the commodity status of animals. It takes commitment and planning to be either. In this way, that lifestyle can be seen as inconvenient and not preferred. Both vegetarians and vegans do not eat meat; however, vegans avoid using all animal products, eat mostly plant based food, and do not make use of any products or byproducts made from animal sources.

Where can these environmental effects be seen? Every inhabitant of Earth emits greenhouse gasses—gasses found in Earth’s atmosphere that can be the outcome of human industry. The amount of GHG on Earth varies directly with its temperature. This means that high levels of GHG results in high temperatures on Earth. The most plenty greenhouse gasses are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone.

“The highest total of livestock-related greenhouse-gas emissions comes from the developing world,” said Walsh. “This accounts for 75 percent of the global emissions from cattle and other ruminants and 56 percent of the global emissions from poultry and pigs.”

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A blog image outlines the different environmental impacts a vegan diet saves.

The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition conducted a comparative assessment among seven dietary patterns to determine their impact. Among these classifications were “normal” with conventional farming, “normal” with organic farming, vegetarian with conventional farming, vegetarian with organic farming, vegan with conventional farming, vegan with organic farming, and “normal” Italian with conventional farming.

A dietitian composed a seven day meal plan to support each diet. The impact of each was then determined by using the Life Cycle Assessment method.

The assessment revealed that the vegan diet with organic farming was the least impactful, proving to be better for the environment than more conventional methods. The examination of single foods showed that beef was the most harmful, followed by fish, cheese, and milk. Furthermore, the water that irrigated the land and crops used to feed cattle was a waste of natural resources and was considered unsustainable to feed future generations.

Modern agricultural advancements have allowed for an unsustainable increase of environmental outputs. This production is not only unsustainable; the consumption added to it creates an unsustainable cycle. The most effective solution is decreasing the source of production: demand. An increase in the use of the vegetarian diet and vegan lifestyle is the most effective way to see a decrease in environmental effects of livestock production.