People choose a vegan diet usually for ethical, health or environmental reasons. These are all valid reasons and I expect that most people justify their plant-based diet on the basis of either animal welfare or animal rights. However, not everyone is receptive to the idea of valuing animals because they are sentient or because they have the right not be harmed, exploited or treated as our property. Many people cling to the idea that for the sake of our enjoyment, convenience or pleasure, it is fine to consume animal products, even if an industry of slaughter necessarily follows.
Well, for those who think that the only benefits that matter are those that apply to humans, I still believe that the vegan diet benefits humans in a number of ways, without resorting to any arguments for animal rights. For those convinced of the prejudice that only humans matter, it is worth pointing out that a plant-based diet can give health benefits to humans, it could help to protect the planet (which is useful to us) and it could help alleviate human suffering by increasing our amount of resources.
For those interested in the health benefits of a vegan diet, I’d say the documentary Forks Over Knives is definitely worth watching. It’s basically a summed up version of the book The China Study. The documentary, based on the findings of Colin T. Campbell that an animal-based diet leads to health issues, features doctors who treat problems such as high cholesterol and diabetes with a vegan diet. Other people featured in the documentary include patients who have avoided the impending risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as the athlete Mac Danzig who says a vegan diet has boosted his MMA career by allowing him to recover more quickly from workouts.
For those who aren’t persuaded by animal rights as a reason to switch to veganism, the benefits of cutting out animal protein from your diet and adding in plant protein might persuade you instead. According to Colin T. Campbell, as well as nutritionists such as Caldwell B. Esselstyn, a vegan diet is an effective way to reduce the risk of (and even eliminate) obesity, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases (such as multiple sclerosis) and possibly even prevent various cancers from forming. If this is true, then a vegan diet could potentially help to reduce government costs for treating these conditions.
Campbell’s study with the animal protein casein (from milk) on rats found that by removing this protein from their diet, cancer tumours could be eliminated. Whether this study is transferable to humans is uncertain and it is also uncertain whether what is true for casein is true for all animal protein. But, if it is possible a vegan diet can go towards reducing the risk of cancer it should be considered – it is certainly true, as Campbell points out, that people with a more plant-based diet (and therefore less animal-protein based diet) have lower rates of cancer, such as those living in rural China. In any case, research the benefits of the vegan diet for yourself, try it out, if you do notice these benefits then carry on with it.
It has been well established that the meat, dairy and egg industries, and the intensive farming that goes along with it, are major contributors to environmental damage. The meat industry alone goes towards producing 5% of global CO2 emissions, 40% of methane emissions (imagine all those cows farting…) and 40% of nitrous oxides. The combined effect of the meat, dairy and egg industries, though, means that the intensive farming of animals is the second largest contributor to environmental damage.
The practices of these industries, through greenhouse emissions, leads to the destruction of the ozone layer. The Amazon rainforest is torn down to make room for pasture, lakes and rivers are polluted with waste and soil becomes eroded, leading to a loss of nutrients. These facts have been confirmed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, as well as by numerous governmental and non-governmental environmental agencies.
For those who are only concerned about the well-being of people, the effect of animal agribusiness on the environment might not alarm you. But it should. After all, the increasing emission of greenhouse gases could eventually destroy the ozone layer, sending ecosystems and weather systems into chaos. This could eventually backfire on us since, as modern ecology has taught us, ecosystems are delicate and the sudden disappearance of a species could have a knock-on effect on us.
If the ozone layer completely disappeared, conditions may become too hot in some places, making it impossible to live there. Following this would be a rapid increase in sea-levels due to polar ice-sheets melting. Other freak weather events could include an increase in hurricanes and tornadoes (we have seen this already) and this would definitely threaten our existence. So, although it may be important to preserve ecosystems and protect the environment for its own sake, it is probably more important we do it for our own sake – since, if we don’t – if we carry on financing animal agriculture that is, we will be threatening ourselves and future generations of people.
Now, not everyone cares that much about their health or about the environment, but many people are very charitable by nature, they believe global human poverty should be prevented. The fundamental problem facing poverty-stricken countries, such as those in Central Africa, is a lack of resources. The most important being food and water of course. The global population is increasing. It now stands at around 7 billion, but it is estimated that by the year 2060 this could rise to 9.5 billion, due to the exponential rise in population. Back in 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich in his book The Population Bomb had already warned that if the population goes on increasing it will result in mass starvation. This is essentially what we are seeing now.
As it stands, the crops that feed everyone on this planet covers just 4% of the Earth’s usable surface. Whereas the amount of the Earth’s surface we use for animal pastureland accounts for 30%. By the way, this amount of pastureland is for meat production alone, this doesn’t even include the amount of land needed to intensively farm cows for milk or hens for their eggs. It definitely seems then that we are wasting the use of our Earth’s surface. We would do much better to grow crops, instead of farming animals, since this would create larger amounts of resources which could satisfy the existing global population and possibly the increases we will see as well.
Feeding livestock so we can eventually feed on them is not an effective or even a moral way to make use of the resources we have. 90% of the protein, 99% of the carbohydrate, and 100% of the fibre value of grain is wasted by cycling it through livestock. Current estimates also suggest that 64% of the US grain crop is fed to livestock. Why go to all this trouble to feed livestock, when these resources could be saved and go towards feeding the hungry around the world?
For those who are concerned about global human suffering, they should recognise that by keeping animal agriculture in business, resources are being wasted in order to satisfy the diet of First World countries, at the expense of countries which are undergoing dangerous shortages of food and water. The elimination of the meat industry alone would go towards freeing up land to grow crops for people who are starving. We should really be working towards this scenario since the amount of usable land on Earth is rapidly decreasing.
hi Sam, i realise this is an old post (ahead of the curve!) but are there any figures for how many human lives a vegan saves per year, like there are for non-human lives? i guess the good news is that since you wrote this the Effective Altruism movement has been born and they have animal welfare as one of their concerns…
The math is pretty simple.16 pounds of Grain a pound of meat. 3 pounds of grain a pound of dairy.10 bottles of baby formula for each bottle of beer. feeds a small village. One day at a time