Unless you hibernated away the last few months of 2018, you’ll know that the vegan movement has been making real strides recently, causing a great deal of controversy along the way.
First things first, I fully support veganism. There’s no denying that animal agriculture leaves a huge environmental footprint. The “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” website (A.U.M films, 2014) relays that, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.“
Watching the Cowspiracy (2014) Netflix documentary is actually what triggered my interest in the environmental impact of animal agriculture. It blew my mind how huge this issue really is, and how much it’s glossed over by the media. Goodland and Anhang (2009) stated that “Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.” Hearing facts like this was so shocking to me – I’d never even considered that eating animal products had much of an impact on the environment at all.
I think the most astounding thing is the lack of attention that environmental agencies pay to animal agriculture. In Cowspiracy, it is told how fracking is often prioritised as a main concern because of it’s high demand for water. Fracking uses 100 billion gallons of water per year. But how much does animal agriculture use? According to the film, 34 trillion gallons – just in the US. In fact, it takes 660 gallons of water to produce one quarter-pound hamburger. That’s the equivalent of 2 months worth of showers. The documentary also goes on to highlight how water-saving campaigns tend to focus heavily on reducing domestic water wastage. This, however, only accounts for 5% of water usage in the US, compared to 55% from animal agriculture. The fact that this is rarely even touched upon in mainstream media is staggering.
Now I’m not saying that everybody should immediately throw out every animal product they own and become fully vegan. For starters, I aren’t doing that myself. Although the impact of animal agriculture is huge, there are a whole host of other reasons why being vegan isn’t accessible to everyone. I don’t believe in shaming people for what they eat; there are so many unique and often complicated factors that go into this decision. All I’m saying is that I think it’s important to be aware of the environmental impacts, and to do something if it is a healthy possibility for you.
I firmly believe that small changes are the way forward (don’t get me wrong, if you want to go fully vegan that’s amazing!) Personally, I have gone back to being vegetarian and am making some dairy substitutes such as using plant milk. Even doing a meat-free day each week, or swapping out a meat product you use for a vegetarian substitute, or just trying some plant-based products is a great step. You might be surprised as to how much you enjoy them! It’s definitely worth not turning your nose up at veggie/vegan substitutes before you’ve tried them; as time goes on they’re becoming tastier and gradually more accessible.
I think my main point is, let’s be open to at least listening. Vegans really are subjected to a whole load of abuse by society, often by people who are so set in their ways they aren’t even willing to consider what they have to say. Every time I see the whole “vegans are snowflakes” narrative it frustrates me more and more. Because all too often what I’m seeing is peaceful people who have educated themselves on a subject being not debated with, but attacked for their beliefs by a brigade of middle-aged men who are offended by a vegan sausage roll.
Who’s the snowflake now, Barry?
A.U.M films, 2014. Cowspiracy: The sustainability secret. [Online]
Available at: http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts/
[Accessed 10th January 2019].
Cowspiracy: The sustainability secret 2014. [Film] s.l.: A.U.M films and First Spark Media.
Goodland, R. & Anhang, J., 2009. Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change were pigs, chickens and cows?. World Watch, November/December. Available at: http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf