A week or so ago, I was at happy hour with my team from work. The group ordered some wings and fries, and my veganism was inevitably brought up when the wings arrived and a coworker offered me some. When I politely declined, explaining I don’t eat meat, he asked if I was vegetarian. After I told him I’m vegan, we went into an interesting discussion about vegetarian/veganism (he’s a pescetarian) and restricting ourselves for the greater good. He was really concerned about my happiness, and wanted to ensure I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything due to my dietary restriction. I told him not to worry, that I am indeed more than happy with my decision to stop consuming animal products, and that if I ever did feel a void in my life that I would reconsider some of the restrictions.
He then brought up an interesting point– he said that eating meat is just part of the circle of life, and that we shouldn’t refuse meat because it would disrupt the natural process; if we didn’t eat animals, there would be an overpopulation. I didn’t want to spend the entire night discussing veganism and animals, so I didn’t really engage in the discussion and just sort of nodded along and tried steering the conversation in another direction (I know, bad vegan), but when I got home I started to think about it more thoroughly.
Was what he said true? Would there just be too many animals that the eco-system would fall apart? What about the economy? If everyone stopped eating meat, what would happen to all those who work for giant farming companies?
I decided to do a little research, and found a lot of biased, one-sided articles (both pro-meat and anti-meat) on what would happen if everyone stopped consuming animal products. I, of course, tended to side with the anti-meat articles… but I gave both sides a shot.
I found a few interesting points about the consequences and effects of universal vegetarian/veganism. First, the environmental impact. One Slate article writes that in 2009, researchers from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency predicted that universal veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17 percent, methane emissions by 24 percent, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21 percent by 2050. It wouldn’t single-handedly eliminate global warming, but it would be a huge contribution toward reducing climate change.
Slate also talks about the economic impact of universal vegetarian/veganism: livestock production accounts for 1.4 percent of the world’s total GDP. The production and sale of animal products account for 1.3 billion people’s jobs. That’s a lot of money and livelihoods on the line– a potentially disastrous consequence of universal vegan/vegetarianism (not a permanent one, though).
Emily, the writer behind the blog Bite Size Vegan, writes how since we are the ones who breed the animals, we create the artificial population. If the demand for these animals diminished, the population will return to a natural balance. It may not be as simple as she puts it, but it does make sense that if we stop breeding animals, the numbers would certainly fall and there wouldn’t be some massive takeover of animals.
Another great outcome of universal vegetarian/veganism is that we could use the crops used to feed animals to instead feed humans in need. There are so many in this world who are dying of hunger and are in need of nourishment and whole foods. The elimination of meat/dairy consumption would certainly help alleviate world hunger.
Realistically, I don’t think we’ll be giving up meat, let alone dairy, anytime soon. However, I do think it is important for us, as citizens of the world, to think about the positive contributions we can make while we live on this earth. If we all consumed a little less meat and/or a little less dairy, we can help reduce the suffering of animals as well as the effects of global warming. I firmly believe that should one choose to consume meat/dairy, it should not be bought from the massive factory farms. We should instead be giving our money to the farmers who raise animals ethically, in both an environmental and humanitarian way.
I’m not going to start trying to convert everyone around me to be vegan because I know I can’t force my beliefs on anyone (and I also just can’t see myself being a holier-than-thou type of vegan). But I want us, as human beings, to be less ignorant of the food industry, more compassionate toward the world, and more open to the changes we can make.
Yes, I am only one person, and I can only do so much to make a positive impact. But if I can share with those around me what a little less meat/dairy consumption can do, perhaps the demand for meat will slowly decrease and we can all work together to push for a better world.
Bite Size Vegan: