Last week I began a three-part series on why I choose vegan by sharing my thoughts on animal treatment and factory farming. If you’re interested, check it out here. Today I am focusing on the global impact of meat production and consumption, by whichI mean two things: the planet on which we live and the 7 billion people who live on this planet and directly affected by our choices.

Why I Choose Vegan: Part Two

Understanding the Global Impact

I grew up with an environmentalist mother. She began recycling way before it was cool and long before there was a door to door recycling service. We would pack up the car with paper and cardboard and drive to a recycling center where we would sort and dispose of our recycling. When we went out for meals with disposable tableware, she would save the plastic spoons, paper napkins, and packets of condiments that would collect in a drawer of our kitchen for later reuse. She has raised awareness on environmental issues by writing a couple of books on the topic, starting a CSA farm to provide local, sustainable produce to it’s members, and caring for 43 chickens and thousands of bees in order to consume (and provide) responsibly grown eggs and honey.

I’m married to a man dedicated to global change. He fights to end extreme poverty around the world through campaigning for systemic and social change. He has traveled to some of the poorest nations in the world and made relationships with our global neighbors, campaigned in Washington D.C. and at the G8 summit in Scotland, and presented at colleges, churches, and conferences all around the United States in his work to alleviate hunger and extreme poverty. As a 1st generation American who’s parents immigrated from Egypt, he has blood connections to those who have experienced oppression and poverty, driving his motivation to continue his fight for social justice.

Both my Mom and Jason (in addition to my own experiences) have encouraged me to grow and care deeply about the planet we live on and the people with whom we share it. These two passions are inseparably intertwined. The degradation of our planet affects those in the poorest countries the most as they lose coastal land due to the rising oceans caused by climate change, grazing land for cattle mostly consumed by Westerners, and depleted forests, oceans and mountains that result from increasing demands for timber, fish, and metals. If we continue to misuse the resources of this planet, we will make it unsustainable for all to share this earth, and the poorest have been the first to suffer and die. Our high demands are compromising the ability of the poor to have basic necessities while stripping Earth of it’s rich resources.

Gandhi said, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” This straight-forward and beautiful truth is a basic principal I try to live by. There is no justification for living affluently in North America while others live in sickness and hunger. I’m not special or different in any way that should set me apart and yet, as a United States citizen my decisions powerfully affect my global neighbors, most significantly my food choices. The high demand for beef has forced farmers in other countries to turn their farmland into exported grains harvested to feed our cattle while people in their own country go hungry, meanwhile devastating once rich soils. I cannot ignore the undeniable connection between farmers of the global south, the depletion of the earth’s resources, and the meat consumption of the western world.

If everyone ate the way people do in the United States this earth could feed 2.5 billion people. In other words we would need 3+ planets to feed everyone our diet. While some people believe hunger, poverty, and the depletion of resources is a population problem of the bigger (and poorer) countries, it is important to also note that if everyone ate the way they do in India, this earth could feed 10 billion people. That leaves room for almost 3 billion people if we all ate a simple, plant-based, and local diet! Preserving this planet for future generations and distributing the resources in a way to feed everyone is a major motivation for my vegan diet.

Does cutting out meat really have a global impact? Consider these facts:

  • More than 1/3 of the world’s grain harvest is to feed livestock (Global Issues)
  • The “livestock sector” generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, trains, ships, and planes in the world combined (United Nations, 2006)
  • It takes about 60 pounds of water to produce a pound of potatoes, 108 for a pound of wheat, 168 for a pound of corn, 229 for a pound of rice, and 12,000 gallons for a pound of meat.
  • If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would save 1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock (Huffington Post)
  • If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads. (Environmental Defense)

I am not as educated in environment issues as my mom, or as travelled as Jason, but I have visited some of the poorer countries of this world, lived with families, heard their stories, and seen their hunger. In the campo of Honduras I spent a week with a family that could barely feed themselves, while turning their one resource, the farmland, into an exported grain that would be sent to the United States and fed to our factory farmed cattle. This was not a choice but a necessity for the farmers to respond to the demands of their northern neighbors. This relationship, among others, began to bridge the gap between our different worlds and I started to understand first hand how my choices and lifestyle had significant global impact.

So in response to the question, “Why vegan?”, the global impact of a vegan diet is one of my largest motivations. Thanks for reading and stop by next Friday when I will be tackling veganism and health.

For more reading on meat consumption and it’s global impact check out:
The Breathtaking Effects of Cutting Back Meat, Kathy Freston
Beef, Global Issues
Meat Eaters Guide, Environmental Working Group
Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating, Erik Marcus
Walking Gently, Lisa McMinn