You Don‘t Have To Go Vegan
But there are some good reasons for limiting the consumption of animal products
With more and more people adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet, you might ask yourself what their reasons are. And while most of us have already heard of factory farming and the environmental changes connected to this practice, many suppress the thought that animal products might not be that unproblematic after all. In this article, I want to give you a brief outline of why limiting the consumption of animal products is beneficial from a health, moral and environmental perspective.
Meat and Dairy Consumption in the US
Let’s face it — meat consumption, in particular, is far too high in most “developed countries“. And while that might not be true for yourself, it probably is for some of your friends, colleagues and family members. Americans, on average, eat 273 lbs of meat each year, 55% of which is made up of red meat, a type of food linked to cancer and various other diseases. Dietary guidelines draw a maximum at an annual amount of 57 lbs. From a health point of view, milk and egg consumption isn‘t that much of a problem, as most Americans roughly follow recommendations made by governmental institutions. Be aware though, that new scientific evidence emerges on a regular basis and official guidelines therefore change from time to time.
While the scientific perspective on poultry and dairy consumption remains somehow vague, it is proven that people in all western societies fall behind on food that undisputedly is considered healthy and beneficial: In the typical American diet, all kinds of vegetables, legumes and whole grains are severely underrepresented. Instead, what most people find on their plate is a huge variety of processed foods that often don‘t lack sugar.
Meat and Dairy Production
Feeding the world in a sustainable way is one of our most pressing challenges in the coming decades. Meat plays a…
The Moral Side to Factory Farming
Right now, there are almost 21.5 billion chickens alive, spread all around the globe. That‘s almost three animals per person. As more and more countries experience rapid improvements in their standard of living, meat becomes cheaper and its production more efficient. Don‘t be mistaken: “Efficient” farming doesn‘t include the animal which is merely a part of a complex calculation. A study from 2019 (Sentience Institute) estimates that 99% of animals in the US are living in factory farms — farms that allow animals almost no space to move or socially interact. In order to maximize efficiency, they‘re often overbred to a point at which they suffer from a disproportional amount of body weight. Because there still is very little legal regulation on how livestock has to be raised, farm operators don‘t shy away from using tons of antibiotics which not only harm animal populations in the long run but also favor the spread of multiresistant bacteria.
As you maybe already have guessed, cows sometimes benefit from better living conditions. While 70% of them are to be found in factory farms, the remaining 30% is raised in a more species-appropriate way. That is by no means perfect — in order to allow for milk production, calves have to be taken away from their mothers only a few days after birth.
The Impact of Livestock Farming on Our Climate
Livestock and especially factory farming has a staggering impact on global climate, as it accounts for at least 15% of greenhouse-gas emissions and often causes long supply chains. If you only look at developed nations like those in the EU, the data gets even more clear: 83% of food-related emissions come from dairy, meat and eggs. But there is even more meaningful data: 9 out of 10 of the most greenhouse-gas-intensive food products (measured in kgCO₂ (equivalent) per 1000 kilocalories) are animal products with various types of meat topping the list.
Environmental impacts of food production
Food, energy and water: this is what the United Nations refers to as the 'nexus' of sustainable development. As the…
The World Bank estimates that up to 90% of global marine fish stocks are either overfished or fully exploited, a percentage that threatens both biodiversity and food supply for almost one billion people. Because it gets harder and thereby more expensive to fish in the open sea, intensive fish farming under living conditions quite similar to those of livestock is on the rise. And even if fishing continues on high seas, its methods remain dangerous for all kinds of marine life. Drift nets, which can reach the length of dozens of kilometers but have been strictly regulated by governments all around the world, still pose a serious threat as illegal fishing continues, especially in developing countries.
What Does This Mean For Me?
I didn‘t write this text to point at anyone. If you love meat, if you love eggs, if you love fish and seafood, you‘re well off eating them in the future. Nonetheless, I want to encourage you to find out where your food comes from. Yes, it might be quite hard to find meat and dairy from species-appropriate farming, it may not be pleasant to give up on overfished products. However, we as consumers get to make a difference. We decide which kinds of products to support and which ones to reject.
If you‘re also concerned about the environmental dimension of food production, try to incorporate more plant-based meals into your diet. Thereby you not only reduce your carbon footprint but also make way for a more balanced diet as you‘ll need to experiment with different vegetables and a variety of whole grains.