So I was hoping to write a huge post on why a vegan diet is the right diet. But it’s not a super easy argument to make. So I thought I’d postulate and opine instead of prove. Sorry.
The Costs of Vegetables and Meat
One argument I hear often when people are trying to talk about how terrible the meat industry is relates to the cost of raising animals. And that cost comes in many forms, including financial and environmental, two concerns I’d like to address here.
The financial cost of raising cattle and other meat animals cannot be as skewed as the big documentaries would have you believe. The Sierra Club claims in one of their food cost campaign videos (The True Cost Of Food) that a steak really costs $815/lb because of all of the water consumed, environment impacted, etc. They claim that part of this is due to the US government’s skewed subsidies for food, giving a huge majority of funding to the meat industries and a tiny sliver of an amount to the vegetable farmers. But the fact is that in the US we eat about $2,000,000,000,000 ($2T) of food every year, and the government subsidies for food ring in at about $20,000,000,000 ($20B, or about 1% of the total spent on food in the country, or about $65 per person per year – not so much). And if the true cost for a pound of steak was $815 (as they claim in the video), we would be spending approximately 100% of our GDP on beef alone. Believe it or not, that isn’t the case.
It is true that steak is more expensive than vegetables, and the environmental impact is significant. But the scaremongers of the industry don’t expect that you’ll research these things. Financially, meat is a luxury, but it’s fine. It’s not going to break the economy, it’s not significantly skewing the prices for veggies, and it’s not a significant portion of the taxes you pay. So quit whining about it.
The environmental impact of industrial cattle and poultry farming, however, is a big deal. Many articles and people have been talking about the environmental impact of driving cars versus eating meat. This article references a Michael Pollan quote in which he says “A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius.” The article then goes on to say that Pollan was wrong, but it doesn’t comment on the immensity of the impact of going vegan. True, the impact of switching to a vegan diet is only 2 tons of CO2 and switching from a Hummer to a Prius is more than double that (just under 5 tons CO2). But that’s still huge. Eating vegan will result in a net reduction of CO2 output of roughly 10% (for the average American with a footprint of 20 tons CO2-eq per year). That’s a big amount.
The thing is, though a vegan diet is considerably more earth conscious than a meaty diet, we’re not looking at all the individual environmental impacts for which we’re responsible. Some recent studies point to pets as a big culprit of environmental impact, a medium sized dog having roughly the same impact on the environment as two SUVs. Ouch.
The Right Choice
So maybe veganism isn’t so financially important. And maybe eating less cow is only making moderate steps toward saving the environment. So why is it the better choice?
Even a small step toward reducing emissions is a step in the right direction. We don’t know yet how to reset or reverse global warming and the intense CO2 production we’re getting quite used to. So though we can’t fix everything by switching to a vegan diet, it could help us slow down the problems and give ourselves more time to find a solution.
In space, no one can hear you scream for a hamburger. For any kind of sustainable or limited resource farming, cows are a terrible way to produce the nutrients we need. When we’re counting on sun for energy and recycling for nutrients and dealing with limited space and time, plant-based diets will definitely be the best way to travel. Trips to Mars and beyond will likely include plant based diets. And as we run out of resources on our own little rock, plant based diets will become the way to go at home, too.
Vegetables are a drug we can all enjoy. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, my vegan diet has left me feeling better, sleeping better, playing sports better, etc. Almost everything about it has increase my happiness, fitness, and mental agility. And all foods taste better now. I still struggle to understand why this isn’t benefit enough to convince everybody to give it a try, but it’s not so easy to believe another person who tells you that “giving up steak and bacon is the best thing I’ve done this year!” I don’t even think I’d believe that now, and here I am asking you to believe it.
What the future holds for us
I’m sure it was hard to be vegan 100 years ago. Fruits and vegetables and nuts weren’t available year round. Restaurants weren’t so plentiful. Being vegan would be a struggle. Only the people for whom it was important and to whom resources could be devoted could afford to be vegan (e.g. gladiators were vegans). But each year we learn more about the benefits of a vegan diet, and it’s getting easier and easier to afford and make time for vegan food. Each year understanding and prevalence grows. It is a sustainable, healthy way to keep nutrition up and keep disease down. And I predict that it will only get better. Our need and desire for calorie-dense, preserved foods will transition to a desire for nutrient-dense, fresh foods, making plant based diets an extremely attractive option. It won’t happen within my lifetime, but somewhere down the road we’ll be majority vegan, and it will be good for all of us. Einstein once said “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet,” and I happen to agree with him. And I look forward to that world.