This article can also be found at Degree180.
I’m going to start out by saying that I’m not vegan. I’m not even vegetarian. I’m just a curious average omnivore looking for answers.
Say the word “vegan” on the internet and you’re bound to get countless knee-jerk reactions and unpleasant comments. But the fact is that veganism is more mainstream now than ever. 7.5 million people in the United States currently refrain completely from consuming animal products, a number that has doubled since 2009. And this statistic doesn’t even include the number of people who are consciously choosing to eat fewer animal products, but do not fully denote themselves as vegan. Are vegans on to something, or is eating animal products really not a big deal? Let’s investigate.
Let’s begin with a big topic: The environment. According to Time, raising livestock may have the biggest impact on the planet of any human activity. Livestock production not only causes air and water pollution, but also uses about one-third of the world’s fresh water. We also need a lot of food to feed 7 billion people, and the earth’s population certainly isn’t getting any smaller. About “40% of the world’s land surface is used for the purposes of keeping all 7 billion of us fed…and the vast majority of that land…is used to support the chickens, pigs and cattle that we eventually eat.” You don’t have to do much math to realize that we’re running out of space in our ever-growing world.
Although not quite as severe, dairy production can also have negative impacts on the environment. As with meat, dairy farms require the production of feed for cows, and are known to cause severe air pollution. In addition, dairy is globally rising in popularity and consumption is expected to rise 50 percent between 2005 and 2050 according to The New York Times.
The fact of the matter is that we don’t need animal products to survive or to live a healthy lifestyle, so in the future will it even be necessary for us to kill animals for food? A diet that includes meat and other animal products can be a very healthy one, but it’s certainly possible to eat a balanced vegan diet and acquire all of the nutrients you need. Popular opinion tells us that vegans have a difficult time getting enough protein in their diets but if the diet is done properly this shouldn’t be the case. Legumes and quinoa, for example, are both quite high in protein, as well as various other plant foods. When it comes down to it, meat isn’t completely necessary; people eat it because it tastes good and because consuming it is just the way it’s always been.
But for those of you who believe you couldn’t possibly give up meat and stay sane, there is hope for you. A team of Dutch researchers has developed lab-grown meat, a completely cruelty-free alternative. What the hell is lab-grown meat, you ask? Unfortunately I’m no scientist and therefore in no place to attempt to explain the process, so you can read more on that here.The first lab-grown hamburger patty debuted at a whopping $350,000, but fortunately the researchers have noted that the price is dropping rapidly. They suspect it wont be long before the price of a hamburger hits just below $10. Once that happens and the lab-grown meat is widely available, it’s really a win-win situation for everybody.
In addition I’ll mention that frankly I’m just gradually feeling worse and worse about contributing to the suffering of innocent animals. I realize this is subjective matter, as many people do not necessarily see this as a problem, but in my eyes if you’ve got the means (financially or otherwise) to go lighter on the consumption of animal products, then why not try it out?
That being said, veganism is a bit of a first-world issue in a sense. It’s much more difficult to travel to other countries and continue to eat a vegan diet than it is in the United States and other first-world countries. People in developing countries don’t necessarily always have the resources to eat a plant-based diet, so it would be unreasonable to expect them to convert completely. The same can be said about low-income people in the United States, for whom it is often much harder to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.
Until lab-grown meat is more readily-available to the general populace, perhaps a more realistic goal for many people is to meet in the middle and try out a “flexitarian” diet in which we decrease our consumption of animal products but still continue to eat them on occasion. That way you could potentially avoid the awkward situation at a dinner party where the host forgot you were vegan, or freely travel to other countries where it might be exceptionally difficult to find vegan foods for every meal. Even just limiting the amount of animal products we consume will make a positive impact on the environment as well as on the amount of suffering that animals have to endure.
Art by Avery Muether