Many of the world’s vegans maintain the lifestyle because they consider themselves to be making a sacrifice for the sake of animals and the environment. At face value, it would seem that veganism has good intentions and would be more environmentally friendly and ethical given our current technological advances. Yet, the argument that eating a vegan diet is morally justified or even environmentally friendly may be flawed.
While it would be different if modern day vegans were gathering their food in the wild or growing it themselves, if we assume that vegans and omnivores are plugged into the modern food production complex, we get a very different image.
One of the largest arguments of vegans is how environmentally friendly their decisions are, but this is only partially true when compared to meat eating omnivores. A 2016 study entitled Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios showed the environmental toll each style of eating requires.
The worst diet, as far as how much agricultural land is required to sustain it, is a 100% omnivorous diet. Only 467 million people could be sustained on the arable land within the United States if we ate 100% animal protein.
However, with a diet that is only 40 or 20% omnivorous, more people can be sustained on our land (752 and 769 million respectively) than with a vegan diet (only 735 million). In short, veganism requires more land than those who are eating under 40% of their diet as protein.
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This may not even consider how much land and emissions are needed for vegans to supplement the nutrition they lose through their diet. Many vegans consume vitamin B12, creatine, pea / rice protein and amino acids like carnitine in order to get proper nutrition. All of these supplements tax the land even further.
If this all seems too theoretical, here is a sobering fact: calorie for calorie, producing lettuce creates more greenhouse gas emissions than bacon. No vegan is going to replace all their bacon calories with lettuce, but it is an indicator of the flawed logic of vegan promoters.
Another major problem of veganism is how detrimental it is for small animals and insects. This is due, in part, to the fact that grazing animals don’t require much alteration to the many square miles of land where they eat. In contrast, growing crops requires clearing the native vegetation, which kills thousands of animals and insects per square mile.
In Australia, each 100 kg of usable beef cost 2.2 animals to produce (this includes both the cow and animals on the land killed in the process). However, 55 animals die to produce 100 kg of usable plant protein. This is 25 times more deaths than the same amount of beef.
Two methods contribute to this disproportionate ratio. Firstly, clearing land to produce crops kills insects, snakes, and mice. The ploughing often leaves a field of dead animals for the birds to feast upon. Second, the fumigation within grain storage can kill thousands more mice within granaries.
If vegans and other animal-rights activists believe a diet low in meat is saving lives, these statistics provide a sobering look.
The intention of the vegan diet may be well-meaning, but the results do not support the overall goal. Looking forward, humans must learn how to sustain themselves on a diet that is partially omnivorous, but under 40% of their daily calories. The animals we do consume must be processed in healthier, more sustainable, and in more humane ways. If we do this, and keep in mind that all sentient life is valuable, we will make less of an impact on the earth and remain in integrity with our roles as stewards of earth.