Cruelty-Free for the Planet

Sitting on my twin-sized bed one emotional night freshman year, I decided to browse around Netflix to distract my mind. After scrolling for what felt like forever, I stopped on the documentary Cowspiracy, and decided to give it a go. Two bags of popcorn and seven hours later, I had watched every vegan related documentary available to me, and did enough research on the topic of veganism to write a small novel.

Photo by: Heather Matley
Photo by: Heather Matley

That night I cut animal products out of my life, cold turkey, and made the decision to live a cruelty-free life.

At the time, I told about three people, and have since only told a handful more.

So why, a year and a half later, am I still so fearful of mentioning to those around me that I am vegan?

Easy answer: stereotypes.

Thanks to PETA and countless memes and jokes on the Internet, vegans have been painted to be extremist hippies, or self-righteous assholes.

“How do you know if someone’s vegan? They’ll tell you.”

These stereotypes, while occasionally accurate, only depict one small side of what the vegan community is, and as a result, cover up all of the important reasons why people choose to be vegan.

It is easy to bite into and In-N-Out burger or dig into a pint of ice cream and disconnect what you are eating and the impact it has on all aspects of life; that being your life, the life of animals, and the life of the planet.

Whether you care for animals or not, and whether you care about your health and life expectancy or not, one thing I think the overwhelming majority can agree on, is a care and concern for the environment.

I try my best to not be preachy or pushy, as I know everyone has the freedom to live the way they choose, but there is a great difference between being naïve and choosing to stay naïve. And in this day and age where just about everyone either considers themselves an environmentalist or voices concerns about the current decline of our planet, it is hard to sit back and watch some willfully ignore the impact the meat and dairy industry has.

So, instead of throwing paint on people’s fur coats or protesting in front of businesses like PETA does, I thought I would share some eye-opening information about the environmental impacts of the meat and dairy industries, and let everyone take from that information what they will.

According to One Green Planet, a website dedicated to informing the public on how to live an eco-conscious lifestyle, nearly 50% of the water used in the United States goes to raising animals for food, with 2,400 gallons of water used to produce a single pound of meat.

In a study done by NPR in 2012, the average person in the United States consumes 270.7 pounds of meat per year. If you do your math right, that totals out to 649,680 gallons of water used for meat, every year for every person.

Also, according to One Green Planet’s website, the meat, dairy, and egg industries produce 65% of worldwide nitrous oxide emissions, which are 300 times more powerful at trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The diet of meat eaters creates 7 times more greenhouse gas emissions than a vegan diet.

In a report published by Yale, the EPA estimates that the average dairy farm produces 90 million pounds of manure each year. The USDA estimates that manure from only 200 milking cows produces as much nitrogen as sewage from a community of 5,000 to 10,000 people. Not only do these tons of manure release harmful greenhouse gases, they also tend to make their way into the world’s bodies of water.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that livestock uses over 30% of the earth’s entire land surface, and 33% of the earth’s arable land is used to produce feed for that livestock.

But where are the meat and dairy industries finding all of this land?

According to the FAO, over 70% of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over for grazing. So not only are these industries polluting the air, but they are the greatest contributor to deforestation. Anyone who has taken a basic science class knows that the trees in the rainforests are essential for oxygen production, and carbon dioxide reduction.

Chew on that.

Now I am not saying I am anywhere near close to perfect when it comes to helping the environment, but even the little things, like changing up your diet slightly, can have an impact.

It is all about supply and demand, so next time you are at the grocery store picking up some eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast, or throwing parmesan cheese in your basket for that one pasta recipe you really want to try out, think twice. Consider how the small changes you make everyday can have an impact, and then maybe, just maybe, you can actually start considering yourself an environmentalist.

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