Over the last decade, the developed world has seen a notable rise in the popularity of vegan and vegetarian lifestyles. This upward trend is rather unsurprising. We are living in a time where information is more readily available than it has ever been before, and people are now able to educate themselves about the atrocities committed towards animals in the name of meat and dairy far more easily.
As a child, it’s easy to disassociate the idea of food from living things. Most parents wouldn’t really sit down with their kids and run them through the in’s and out’s of the brutal meat industry. But if you do tell a child about the realities of their food, check out how simple it seems to them – we shouldn’t eat it.
The reasons that people decide to become vegetarian or vegan are quite varied, but generally come down to the same point – empathy. You wouldn’t want to live in the conditions that animals have to live in to provide us with meat, so why would you wish it upon them by consuming it? But there is a general attitude amongst people who are not either vegetarian or vegan that these people are preachy, pushy and too idealistic. And certainly, as with any movement, there are those who take it to extremes. Some demonise meat eaters as murderers on a daily basis or fill up your news feed on Facebook with brutal videos of the various atrocities committed towards animals in the name of food.
There are vegans and vegetarians who believe strongly that meat eaters and consumers of dairy are ruining the world. And those people might not be so far off base. For quite a few reasons, vegans might actually be saving the world, and here’s why…
1) Emissions, And The Meat Industry’s Role in Climate Change
The meat and dairy industries use a lot of energy, and this means their emissions are through the roof. Greenhouse gases produced by power consumption are one of the leading impactors on climate change. There are some who believe that animal agriculture may actually be responsible for a staggering half of all emissions. Feeding massive amounts of grain and water to farmed animals and then killing and processing them, transporting and storing their flesh, consumes a vast amount of energy. The animals themselves and all the manure that they produce also release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are all powerful greenhouse gases, and all produced in spades by the meat industry. These gases together result in the vast majority of climate change. Researchers from the Loma Linda University in California found that vegans have the smallest carbon footprint, generating a 41.7 percent smaller volume of greenhouse gases than meat eaters do. Ilmi Granoff of the Overseas Development Institute based in the U.K has urged officials to forget about coal and cars, and insists that the “fastest way to address climate change would be to dramatically reduce the amount of meat people eat.” Similarly, the United Nations has said that raising animals for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” Much of the discussion around climate change rests on coal and transport – perhaps that discourse should be shifted toward the meat and dairy industries in a bigger way. It seems that living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is the far more environmentally sustainable choice.
2) Life Expectancies, And A Healthier Life.
A study recently published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal found that vegans live longer, and have less risk of disease than meat eaters. They found that every three per cent increase in calories from plant protein reduced the risk of death from natural causes by ten percent. This figure rises to twelve percent in relation to risk of dying from heart disease. Conversely, raising the share of animal protein in one’s diet by ten percent led to a two percent higher risk of death from all natural causes, and an eight percent higher chance of dying from heart disease. Substituting egg protein for plant protein led to a whopping nineteen percent reduction in the risk, and eliminating unprocessed red meat saw a drop of twelve percent. Research has shown that reducing or eliminating meat from your diet can increase your life expectancy by an average of three and a half years. Cholesterol is one of the world’s biggest killers, and it is only found in eggs, meat and dairy products. Meat eating can also increase the risk of developing certain cancers like colon cancer, as well as kidney and gall stones.
The consensus here is quite clear – vegan and vegetarian lifestyles not only increase life expectancy but eliminate many prominent health risks facing our society today. A 108-year-old woman in Oregon, USA, credits her longevity of life to her vegan lifestyle. Everybody wants to live longer and stay younger, and vegans may have found the hack to doing just that.
3) Universal Subjectivism – Our Unprecedented Place In The Food Chain
Because of the way human consciousness has developed, we have put ourselves outside of the food chain entirely. No other species has ever accomplished this on Earth. Through superior intelligence, we have managed to place ourselves in an unprecedented position of superiority over all other life on earth. There is quite a bit of research that points to this development of complex thought being aided by our early consumption and cooking of meat. The protein we gained from meat allowed our brains to develop to the point where we could analyse, plan and think ahead. But now that we have developed to this point, we don’t necessarily need to continue consuming meat – evolution has done the hard work for us.
In his book, Philosophy For a Better World, dutch philosopher Floris Van Den Berg proposes a new ethical theory called Universal Subjectivism, which can be adopted by anyone regardless of their religious, political, or philosophical orientation. The theory takes into account the universal capacity for suffering amongst all life, and through raising awareness looks towards diminishing suffering and increasing happiness for all beings. Van Der Berg argues that the world would be a more beautiful place if the institutional suffering of all creatures was eliminated. Harmony between all species is one of the steps towards a perfect world. As humans in the developed world, we are extremely blessed to be born into the circumstances we’re in. We have plentiful water, plant-based food, shelter, and most importantly thought and empathy. We owe it to other creatures, and to each other to apply this ability to think empathetically to all situations, and to all life. A world that is built on empathy and understanding rather than a desire for selfish gains, would be a far more inclusive world. Philosophy For A Better World asserts that our consciousness, the fact that we can think, is the only certainty of our existence. This ability to think the way we can is a gift; we owe it other life forms, animal or human, to treat them the way we want to be treated because we are all life. We have the ability to diminish suffering for all life forms because we can simply understand the concept. In this way, a world where universal subjectivism was adopted would indeed be a utopia for all living things – a happier, more caring, world. Philosophy For A Better World was the text that originally pushed me towards a vegetarian lifestyle, and I would recommend it to everyone.
4) Utilitarianism: The Greatest Good for The Greatest Number.
The idea of utopia is what we should be striving for as a civilisation. Similarly to Universal Subjectivism, the philosophical theory of Utilitarianism points towards the idea of “the greatest good for the greatest number.” The doctrine suggests that actions are only right if they are useful to or benefit a majority of life. Originally proposed by Jeremy Bentham, utilitarianism asserts that any action is right in so far as it promotes happiness and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of all conduct. In this way, utilitarianism makes a strong case for vegan and vegetarian lifestyles. While the theory generally rests on the idea of the greatest good for the greatest number of people, this school of thought can certainly be extended to animals. If all creatures on Earth share the same happiness, then the Earth will be a better place overall.
We should strive to not leave the world in a state that is worse than what it was when we arrived. Arguably, if you support the systematic genocide of life procured by the meat industry, you are leaving behind a trail of death that has not benefited the world, and in this way you haven’t allowed for the greatest good of the greatest number. It’s kind of like those signs you see when you go camping – “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories.”
In this world, we should not be taking more than we need, or leaving behind remnants of our existence. Because of the way our society has developed, there is no way to leave behind nothing. Our mark on the world is deeply engrained. But by promoting an outlook towards the greatest good for the greatest number, caring deeply about all life forms, what we leave in our wake can be far less atrocious. We should exist to foster happiness, not misery and death, and this is the key of a utilitarian life. Happiness should belong to all, not just those of us with advanced consciousness. If we want to lead a moral existence, we cannot possibly conceive it to be morally permissible to kill and eat other life forms. If humans were kept in the same or similar conditions to those that farm animals are kept in we would consider this an atrocity – so why is it okay for some life forms but not for others? People tend to pick the animals that they love; they can’t bear the thought of harm coming to their dogs, yet they’re happy to have pork for dinner. For a truly happy world to exist, we cannot just create happiness for ourselves, and select life forms. All life forms deserve the same respect. The greatest good for the greatest number should be absolutely paramount to our existence.
5) Dealing With World Hunger by Ditching Meat.
All over the world, there are hundreds of millions of people currently starving, or suffering from malnutrition. But when we look at how animals are raised and fed, we see a whole bunch of food essentially going to waste. Over seventy percent of the grain that is grown in the United States is used to feed livestock. In wealthy and poor countries alike, livestock is fed cereals, legumes and vegetables. This is human grade food that could sustain hundreds of thousands of people, being used to feed animals in order for humans to eat them.
We seem to have this a little bit backwards. Especially when you consider the fact that more than seven hundred million tonnes of human grade food go to waste in animal agricultural on a yearly basis. That is seven hundred million tonnes of food which could be used to feed starving people, rather than simply being used to fatten up animals for our own consumption. This amount of wasted food could potentially eradicate hunger in parts of the world. By the same token, food waste is one of the biggest problems facing modern civilisation. Every year, households around the world are wasting approximately 570,000 tonnes of fresh meat every year totalling in $2,198,409,941 Australian dollars; some of this meat is a waste but much of it was entirely edible too. And meat waste does not biodegrade in the same way that plant food waste does, so this is a problem – you can’t just put half a steak in the compost.
In the book Farmageddon, the amount of animal waste in the U.S. every year is estimated at about 50 million chickens, 1.5 million pigs and 100,000 beef cattle. On a global scale, meat waste every year totals about 12 billion animals. That is almost twice the human population of the world, every single year. If meat were eliminated from the global diet, there would be less unmanageable waste, and more food for all of humanity, across the board. When I spent time with the United Nations organisation FAO in Sucre, Bolivia I got to see first hand how simply having access to a vegetarian lifestyle can change people’s understanding of food. The organisation teaches sustainable, organic farming techniques to poor communities, in an effort to help them produce their own food virtually free of cost. These Bolivian families who were used to eating meat delivered from the city, now live on a largely vegetarian diet, simply because they had access to it. And when speaking to them, I realised they were a whole lot happier for it.
Not only is a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle far more sustainable than a meat based one, it may also be the key to living in a truly peaceful, harmonious world. I don’t want to preach to anyone, or guilt anyone into these ways of life. But if you want to help the world to be a better place if you want to save it, then perhaps considering cutting animal based products out of your life is a good place to start.