Every morning we wake up, and one of our first thoughts is, “what am I going to eat for breakfast?” In this day and age, we have many options. It used to be that almost everyone had the classic American breakfast of eggs, bacon, and a slice of toast; but we are living in a different time, where we have the ability to choose from gluten-free, vegan, or dairy-free options.
We have the luxury of choice, and that is a luxury many people are not willing to give up. But with all of these options, how do we know what to choose? Some people are saying there really is no choice at all, and that we should all be eating a vegan diet (a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as is possible, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. It is a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat, dairy, eggs, and honey). Vegans believe that by following a vegan diet, we would not only be saving animals, but saving our world as well.
Climate change is a major global issue, and one that Boulder County cares a lot about. One of the draws people have towards veganism is its reduced carbon footprint. At only 5% of the world’s population, Americans consume 24% of the world’s energy! Switching to a vegan diet is more effective at reducing a carbon footprint than switching from a conventional car to hybrid (Elem Sci Anth, 2017). Not only would this reduce the rate at which our temperatures are rising, but would also aid in bringing pollution down to safer levels.
Not only does veganism help reduce our carbon footprint, but it helps to avoid harm to of the animals we love. According to vegan advocates, each person choosing a vegan lifestyle contributes to saving nearly 200 animals per year. And as the demand for meat lessens, so will the production. Production of meat is one way we continue to denigrate our world. Not only are animals raised for the sole purpose of consumption, but the amount of energy that goes into industrial meat and dairy production is incredibly alarming! Vegans argue that the production in an animal feedlot requires massive amounts of grain and water to feed farmed animals, and the process of killing, transporting, and storing the meat requires an immense amount of energy. They bring up the point that forests (which absorb greenhouse gases) are cut down in order to supply farmland and aid in the development of crops grown for farmed animals. Finally, the animals are producing so much manure that they are themselves releasing even more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. That manure can also run off into our streams and rivers.
While these issues affecting our world are quite important, it is easy to see why some people have a problem with this fairly radical diet. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love waking up to the smell of freshly made bacon? There’s no guilt in that! We are a species evolved to be enticed by a juicy piece of meat. But giving up bacon is not the only reason people are having issues with the diet. Some believe that going vegan is not the most sustainable option for humanity due to carrying capacity (the size of the population that can be supported by the resources provided). A group of researchers completed a study on the carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land. The study looked at ten diet scenarios, including the vegan diet. It was found that the carrying capacity of the vegan diet is significantly less than the vegetarian and omnivorous diets.
Food is one of our three basic needs for survival, and with the cost of food rising worldwide each year (and at a faster rate than ever before) it is no wonder people are beginning to consume more fast food. Meat used to be considered the diet of kings and queens because of its expensive cost. Now, with restaurants like McDonalds and Wendy’s, anyone who has $3.99 can afford a burger. For some, it is now easier and more economical to consume at a fast food restaurant than to pay for groceries each week, not to mention the ease, and we are a society that revels in convenience. But as a nation that has suffered from a great depression, it is important to consider what switching to a vegan diet would mean for the people of a lower economic status. A vitamin that is needed by all humans, B12, is not available in plant form, which makes it a substance that needs to be taken in vitamin form when living on a vegan diet. For many, this is too costly. A month’s supply per person of the supplement can go for $29.95 each. For a family of five, this would be around $150 dollars a month, or $1,800 dollars a year. Now, I personally live on a college-student budget, and just seeing those numbers hurts my heart. Cost is a major concern when switching to a plant-based diet for some, but we also have to consider the expensive cost of meat. Does it compare to the cost of vitamins? According to Medical Daily, switching to a vegetarian diet can save the average meat-eater $746.46 dollars a year.
Although choosing a vegan diet might be saving animals, it is important to consider the effects the diet has on farming. The Boulder Farmers Market is something we all look forward to. The farmers who contribute to the market help to keep food local whether you’re choosing to eat a vegan-diet or try every type of meat out there. Some fear that when consuming a vegan-diet we are not being mindful about their products. According to the Small Footprint Family, soy is one of the leading crops contributing to monocultures. Close to 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest has already been cut down. Scientists predict that at this rate, 40 percent of the Amazon will be destroyed, and a further 20 percent degraded within two decades. Not only is the production of soybeans destroying the Amazon rainforest, but is occurring throughout the world wherever it is grown. In the U.S. alone, over 80 million acres of land are covered in soybeans. That’s hundreds of thousands of acres of deforestation, habitat destruction, over-cultivation and destruction of soils, and billions of tons of toxic chemicals contaminating the environment year after year. Many are in distress that this is not only wreaking havoc on our world, but on humans as well. If someone consuming a vegan-diet solely relied on getting their protein from local beans and nuts, this would not be an issue, but the reality is… soy is a huge part of the vegan-diet. Although a lot of this soy is being produced for the consumption of humans, 47% of soy produced in the US is being consumed by livestock. In order to meet the high demands for grain from industrial food animal operations, large soy monocultures have replaced many smaller farms. The meat industry is contributing a great amount to the massive amount of soy production, if not more than vegans, when it comes to the usage of soy.
Whatever diet you choose to live by, it is important to find an answer to the alarming rate at which Americans consume food. Some feel as though veganism is the answer based on its reduced carbon footprint and its positive effects on climate change; but some fear that making the switch to veganism would not provide them with enough nutrients to live a sustainable life, or worry that they could not afford this new way of life. Even though we are aware of the change needing to take place, choosing to become vegan or not should be based on an individual’s needs, not a choice made for an entire nation. It's reasonable to try to do our best, to avoid doing harm when we are able to, but we can’t ask our society to conform to a new way of life until we know all of its repercussions. I hope now you have the ability to weigh your options and make the best informed decision you can.