Call us at: 617-244-1966
HomeAbout UsServicesContact UsTestimonialsArticles

A Plant-based Diet and The Planet
Presented by Margaret S. Arndt
Dec. 2008

In May and June edition 2007 of VegNews, an article entitled “Can Vegetarianism Save The Planet?” by Jolia Sidona Allen cites Dr. James Hansen, head of NASA’s top institute for climate study, who warns that we could have less than a decade before global warming reaches a tipping point, where there’s no going back. As poignantly portrayed in Al Gore’s movie and book Inconvenient Truth, catastrophic consequences of global warming include coastal flooding, extreme weather patterns, rampant disease, and incalculable extinctions.

“When it comes to protecting life on Earth as we know it, the devastating consequences of factory farming are public – and planet – enemy number one”, says Jolia Sidona Allen in her article. Her article cites a 400 page report ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’, recently published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), that reveals that animal agriculture contributes an estimated 18% to global warming, surpassing even transportation emissions as the primary cause. The report also projects global production of meat to more than double by 2050.

Jolia Sidona Allen’s article also cites Noam Mohr, author of EarthSave’s report entitled, A New Global Warming Strategy: How Environmentalists are Overlooking Vegetarianism as The Most Effective Tool Against Climate Change In Our Lifetimes, who argues, “if we wish to curb global warming over the coming half century, we must look at strategies to address non-CO2 emissions. The strategy with the most impact is vegetarianism.” “In spite of the helplessness many people feel in the fight against global warming, Mohr wants people to realize the immense impact of their day-to-day choices. To him, it’s “as simple as grabbing a veggie burger instead of a hamburger.”

Jolia Sidona Allen’s article also cites Will Tuttle, PhD, author of The World Peace Diet, who believes collective vegetarianism would not only wipe out the driving forces behind global warming, rainforest destruction, species distinction, water pollution and ocean depletion, but also change the core consciousness of the “violence, exclusivism and reductionism” causing these environmental catastrophes.

On eating green, Jolia Sidona Allen’s article cites best-selling author of Diet For A New America, John Robbins, who comments, “the lower your diet is on the food chain, the more earth-friendly it is.”

“Choosing vegetarianism lightens our environmental footprint because the less meat we eat, the less we contribute to worldwide air and water pollution, and water and land misuse”, says Jolia Sidona Allen.

Consider the following facts, (most of which is summarized from Jolia Sidona Allen’s article):

Impact on Land

Factory farming is the single largest land-use industry worldwide. According to the UN FAO report, “in all, livestock production amounts to 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the land surface of this planet.”

The USDA says growing crops for animals takes up 80 percent of the agricultural land in the US, and animals raised for food in the US consume 90 percent of the soy crop, 80 percent of the corn, and 70 percent of its grain. Will Tuttle explains that more than a billion people worldwide endure malnutrition or starvation, while another billion of us suffer from diseases of affluence caused by eating so much meat.

In addition to usurping more than three quarters of all land fit for planting crops, the ruthless demand for more land for livestock grazing and feed-crop production results in severe deforestation, and consequently, loss of biodiversity. Of the 35 global hotspots for biodiversity identified by Conservation International, 23 are affected by livestock production.

In the Amazon, where there dwells countless species, ancient tribes, and which are the leafy lungs of our entire planet, approximately 60 to 70 percent of deforestation results from cattle ranches and soybean cultivation.

In Latin America alone, 70 percent of formerly forested land in the Amazon is now pasture, with fed crops covering most of what’s left.
John Robbins points out that if Costa Ricans ate as much beef per person as their US counterparts, it would take just one year to wipe out the Costa Rican rainforest. He says: “Every time you choose to eat plant foods rather than meat, it’s as if you were planting and tending a tree.”

It takes 22 times the acres of land to meet the food energy needs of one person eating meat than it does for one person eating potatoes.
The quality of soil on most farms today has greatly diminished.

Impact on Water

Livestock production utilizes more than eight percent of global water use, primarily for feed-crop irrigation. This is criminal considering the UN FAO’s recent claim that “64 percent of the world’s population [is] expected to live in water-stressed basins by 2025.”

It takes more than 13 times the water to produce one day’s food supply for an omnivore than it does for a vegan. John Robbins maintains that while it takes only 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, it takes 5,214 gallons to produce a pound of beef.

Animal agriculture is also the largest cause of water pollution, from animal waste, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers, pesticide runoff from feed crops and sediments from eroded pastures.

In North Carolina, for example, open hog farm manure cesspools (known as “lagoons”) are leaking nitrates and other chemicals into ground water reserves, which is known to contribute to the Blue Baby Syndrome, CONSCIOUS EATING, The Vegetarian Alternative, by Drew McRitchie

According to the FAO, livestock is responsible for almost two-thirds of all the ammonia produced by human actions; this toxic gas contributes to acid rain and the acidification of ecosystems.

According to Will Tuttle, all the major global fisheries are now depleted or in trouble, and “entire species of fish are being killed to the verge of extinction to satisfy the demand for fish meal for fattening livestock or factory farmed fish and for seafood for humans.”

Impact on Air

Animal agriculture contributes an estimated 18 percent to global warming surpassing even transportation emissions as the primary cause.
In addition to contributing significantly to the global greenhouse gas problem, factory farming consumes enormous amounts of fossil fuels at all levels of meat production, from the manufacturing of fertilizer and pesticides, to the pumping of water and the powering of farm machines, to the housing and transportation of livestock, to the running of slaughter operations and the refrigeration and transportation of meat. Will Tuttle points out, “It’s easier to see the gallons of fossil fuel poured directly into our cars than it is to see the gallons of fossil fuel poured into our cheese, eggs, fish sticks, hot dogs and steaks.”
It takes 27 times the petroleum to produce a hamburger than it does a soy burger.

The land animals confined and killed every year excrete 130 times the feces and urine produced by humans. The EPA estimates that animal agriculture produces about 80 million tons of methane annually. This potent greenhouse gas, produced in the gastrointestinal tracks of cattle and passed into the atmosphere by belching, flatulence and exhaling waste-water lagoons, has 23 times the global warming potential of CO2, according to the FAO report.

Jamais Cascio, co-founder of the environmentalist blog, recently calculated the environmental footprint of the American burger habit: “…the annual greenhouse gas output from burger consumption is the equivalent to the annual gas output from between four and 13 million SUVs.”

Impact on Resources
Beef could be considered an oil product, requiring so much fossil fuel to produce it. Due to factory housing, trucking, storage, slaughter houses, irrigation, water pump houses, fertilizers, and refrigeration, approximately one gallon of gasoline goes into every pound of beef. CONSCIOUS EATING, The Vegetarian Alternative, by Drew McRitchie

Cattle yield one pound of meat for every 16 pounds of feed. Cattle in the US consume 70% of all the grain produced each year. CONSCIOUS EATING, The Vegetarian Alternative, by Drew McRitchie

The destructive farming methods from industrial agribusiness is not limited to producing animal-based products. The ecological crises of today is also caused by the environmentally devastating use of monoculture, chemical agriculture, forced growing methods, biotechnology and genetically altered food production, and other unsound and manipulative farming methods.

Top soil depletion, mineral content reduction, agricultural land loss, deforestation, species reduction, water, air and soil pollution, acid rain, hazardous wastes, human toxification, poor food distribution for current population needs, and the threat of global warming are all examples of the consequences caused by a very serious and perilous journey humanity has embarked upon for the sake of an industrial postmodern ideal of efficiency.

We have adversely affected agricultural conditions and ecological balance throughout the planet. We have disrespectfully distanced ourselves from the natural world, to our own detriment.

As stated by Steve Gagne, “Most urban and rural humans are now so far removed from the precepts of their ancestral heritage; it appears the stage has been set for an ultimate showdown between man and nature. Greed, arrogance, and strife have become the distinguishing characteristics of 21st-century Homo sapiens.”
According to studies of our ancient agricultural ancestors, it is evident that the ancients cooperated successfully with nature while possessing advanced technology. Sustainable methods of growing natural, whole foods were able to nourish large urban populations of hundreds of thousands of people.

To this day, the peoples who use traditional foods and natural agricultural practices do well.

As stated by Steve Gagne in his article entitled
“Traditional Ancestral Diets”, “many traditional
peoples throughout the world still practice the old
ways of agriculture and their land has long been
producing and thriving. Unlike the ‘denaturing’ 
processes that we use on our food, ancient food 
technology included natural processing methods of
pressing, grinding, fermenting, salting, smoking, and
other storage methods still used today in many parts of
the world by traditional peoples. The ancients chose,
grew, and harvested their foods according to nature’s
cycles. They adapted to tastes through natural 
preparation methods. They wisely planned their waste
management, drainage canals, and food production—
right down to what ended up on the table. Food was a
very important part of their daily lives. It played an
important role in all scientific and religious beliefs and
was treated with reverence and respect. For our own
health and that of future generations, it is imperative
that we integrate similar methods of cultivation on a
global scale.”

Awareness is the gateway to freedom. Action based on awareness can yield results that can save our planet.
The great thinkers of our time, from Leonardo da Vinci to Mahatma Gandhi to Albert Einstein, wrote: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

Each and every day, each and every one of us can choose what w/could help sustain us or destroy us by our food choices. If each of us awakens to the environmentally sustainable choice of eating plant-based foods, of eating organic foods, and of eating locally grown foods, we may have a chance at perpetuating the survival of all species, including ourselves.

Ultimately, we have the power to vote on what businesses and corporations will survive or not by what we purchase and consume with our dollars. We can indeed influence the direction of our cultural paradigm and its agricultural practices by supporting businesses and corporations that use sustainable, life-giving practices, and not those that use destructive practices.

Jolia Sidona Allen implores us on an institutional level. She says, “Both our government and environmental groups wield tremendous power to promote vegetarianism. The government could issue an environmental tax on meat that reflects the true environmental costs of modern meat production. The funds accrued could be used to combat environmental destruction and to promote vegetarianism in infinite areas. Vegetarian advocacy groups could be subsidized with the financial support needed to develop special eco-vegetarian task forces that would focus on advertising the environmental benefits of vegetarianism…[and] be invited into our public schools to educate administrators, teachers, students and parents.

Public buildings such as schools, hospitals, prisons and courthouses could be required to provide vegetarian meal options. In an effort to inform consumers, food packages could be branded with an environmental impact chart…. Earth Day could coincide with a national ‘Go Vegetarian for One Day Challenge’ that would spread the word on the environmental benefits of vegetarianism.”

Ultimately, we all need to pass the word and take action on the profound reality that “Vegetarianism can change the fate of our planet.” That “going veg…” is not about what we lose, but “about what we gain: a sustainable future for all life on earth.”