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A Case for Veganism

By Cecelia Marquez and Scott Zimmerman

Here at St. Mary’s, we pride ourselves on being green. Many of us describe ourselves as environmentalists — people who act to decrease their environmental footprint by altering their modes of consumption. In practice, we switch out our incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent ones, pick a car based on its miles per gallon rather than it’s 0-60 and decrease our usage of water, heat and other utilities. Environmentalism is written into our code. The first tenet of the St. Mary’s Way states that we should act in a manner which “respect[s] the natural environment.” But most members of our community don’t realize that their opportunity to make the biggest impact on the environment is by going vegan.

In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that the animal agriculture industry is responsible for 18 percent of global CO2 emissions, higher than that of all transportation emissions combined across the globe. In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that animal agriculture releases 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. It equals out that every quarter-pound hamburger you eat is the equivalent of driving a 3,000-lb car just under ten miles. So while you think that switching to a Prius might be the best thing you can do for the environment, the math works out that you’ll do more for the globe by switching out your patty.

According to Worldwatch Institute, “it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future—deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.”

Part of what makes animal agriculture so detrimental to the environment is that we have to make food twice when we eat animals: there is the final food product of beef or pork and there is the intermediary product, the feed, grown to raise the cows and pigs that become the beef and pork. In 1996, the United States Department of Agriculture reported that 56 percent of the crops being grown in the US were grown just to feed livestock. Along with that comes the extraordinary amount of land used to grow all this food and the intermediary feed, which today amounts to a whopping 30 percent of the habitable land on Earth. Soil erosion occurs at an accelerated rate on lands where the feed is grown or where cattle graze. Soil nitrogens from eroding soil, chemical fertilizers for feed and animal manure — which carries the several antibiotics that the 8.56 billion land animals we eat annually are put on for the entirety of their lives — all leach into groundwater and damage the wellbeing of our water sources.

A responsible member of the SMCM community may reply, “but my meat products are from responsible, eco-friendly, farms.” Those don’t exist. James McWilliams, a professor from the University of Texas, writes in The New York Times, “it’s not how we produce animal products that ultimately matters. It’s whether we produce them at all.”

Eating animals is bad for the environment no matter how you do it, and “humane” alternatives often conflated with environmental stewardship are in fact worse. Grass-grazing cows produce more methane than their grain-fed counterparts and pastured, organic chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming than factory farmed ones, according to McWilliams. This means that all animal products are terrible for the environment, regardless of how they’re farmed. And no, switching from beef to fish has not been found to be better.

So why vegan, not vegetarian?  Because going vegetarian still uses the same resources and animals that would be used in an omnivorous diet. For example, dairy cattle who are no longer able to produce milk get sent to slaughter; the animal that makes your milk also makes your meat. So whether you are eating a burger or a bowl of cereal with milk, the feed was grown to raise the cow, the land was used to grow the feed, the nitrogen-rich soil will leach into the groundwater and the antibiotic-filled manure will flow into our streams.  This process is true for all vegetarian processes.  Egg-laying hens do not go on to get slaughtered for their meat (they are generally gassed alive instead), but they cause the same environmental degradation and use the same resources that would be used to raise a broiler chicken or any other farmed land animal: feed was grown, land was used, nitrogen will be leached, and antibiotics will flow.  

Scott used to be as carnivorous as they come, he even at a time described himself as anti-vegetarian (out of frustration toward his older sisters for making the switch). Yet the time comes when you realize you cannot be an environmentalist whilst still being a daily consumer of meat and animal byproducts. Although having every member of the SMCM community adopt a vegan lifestyle would be amazing, we recognize that making big changes is daunting. So we propose something we believe is more manageable: eat vegan just one day a week, even if you break that up as one vegan meal over three days. It’s a simple fix with a big influence. And with plentiful vegan options provided at the Great Room, there’s really no excuse to not try.

An environmentalist wouldn’t drive a Hummer; an environmentalist shouldn’t eat meat. And, unlike in this logic statement, we are not asking you to trade in your vehicle. Rather, make the choice to eat healthier, tastier and more ethical food, for less money a few days a week.

This piece is titled “A Case for Veganism,” not “The Case for Veganism.” While we both feel environmentalism is a crucial part of life, it is not the only reason to go vegan. Doing so is both more ethical — for both humans and our non-human animal brethren — and healthier than an animal product-based diet.

Nathan Robinson writes in Current Affairs that animals, “share with us the more morally crucial quality of being able to feel things. They can be happy and they can suffer.” It isn’t morally righteous to put another in pain, animals are no different. Robinson’s entire piece, Meat and The H-Word, is much more eloquent than we can write here; it is worth a read.

If done right, going vegan is cheaper, more eco-friendly, more ethical and healthier than most people’s current diet. Try it out; we promise you won’t regret it.

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