Saving the World from its Own Apocalypse

The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different.

Hippocrates (460-370 BC)

Since the Industrial Era, the world has been facing new challenges in all sectors: environmental issues, public health issues, terrorism, etc. In several parts of the world, people are dying of hunger, and animals are endangered due to global climate change. According to the latest hunger map of the World Food Program, if the current trend continues, the number of hungry people will reach 840 million by 2030. “By 2050, up to $106 billion worth of coastal property will likely be below sea level”, states the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These predictions are alarming and life-threatening for millions of people. Is there a way to reverse this situation? Veganism could be an answer to that question. 

The History

Veganism englobes a large variety of practices and rules that are beyond just following a plant-based diet. The history of veganism goes back centuries. We can even say that there have always been vegans – people who have chosen to live as far away from the use of animal products as possible. The practice can be traced to Indus Valley Civilisation around 3300-1300 BCE in the Indian subcontinent. Several philosophers at that time adopted a strict form of vegetarianism which was very close to veganism. Their main arguments of leading a plant-based diet were based on health, the transmigration of souls, animal, religious and spiritual reasons. 

Vegetarianism established itself as a significant movement in the nineteenth century in England and the United States. At first, only a minority of vegetarians avoided animal food entirely. In 1813, the English poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, published A Vindication of Natural Diet, where he advocated the benefits of having “abstinence from animal food and spirituous liquors”. In 1815, William Lambe, a London physician, claimed that his “water and vegetable diet” could cure anything from tuberculosis to acne. On the other side, in the United States, Sylvester Graham, who is a dietary reformer, introduced the Graham diet based on fruits, vegetables, water and bread made at home with stone-ground flour. This diet became prominent as a health remedy in the 1830s. This was the beginning of the establishment of vegan communities in England and the United States.

In 1944, Donald Watson, an English animal rights advocate, founded The Vegan Society which is a non-governmental organisation and the oldest vegan society in the world. In the same year,  Watson was also the one to create the word “vegan” by joining the first three and last two letters of “vegetarian”. Vegans separated from the Vegetarian Society because the group refused to support veganism, which they saw as extreme and antisocial. 

Contemporary Issues

Veganism involves more than just following a specific eating pattern. People engaged in a vegan lifestyle avoid consumption of  animal products, but  also do not wear or use  products made from animal parts such as leather bags, wool or cashmere sweaters. Someone can be vegan in order to protect the climate and conserve the Earth’s resources. Eating a vegan diet has many benefits. It is abundant and cruelty-free, which makes them ideal for people at any stage of life.  

Love for the environment is one reason why people consider going vegan or reduce their meat consumption. The future of our living ecosystem depends on our choices made now. Operations like factory farms are a drain on our natural resources. Animal agriculture is one of the three largest sources of greenhouse emissions, and unlike cutting on commuting or travel, changing the content of your food from animals to plants does not force you to change your life that much. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. It includes 37% of methane emissions and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions. The methane released from these farms is 70 times more dangerous per ton to the atmosphere than the carbon dioxide emissions. But that doesn’t make the carbon dioxide emissions any less staggering. The fossil fuels used in energy, transportation, and synthetic pesticides/fertilisers emits 90 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Factory farming also releases harmful compounds like hydrogen sulphide and ammonia that can cause immediate adverse health effects in humans. Depending on the concentration of hydrogen sulphide inhaled, the health effects could start from symptoms of dizziness, loss of smell to nearly instant death.  Exposure to high levels of ammonia in the air may irritate a person’s skin, cause coughing and burns. In addition, these animals are kept in unsanitary conditions which can prove to be a source of contamination and spread to humans through contaminated meat. From the spread of disease to unhealthy chemicals in the meat, factory farming is noxious for humans.

Animal agriculture is also the main cause of deforestation, which is detrimental to our environment. In the United States alone, over 260 million acres of forest have cleared to make room for crop fields, most of which are used to exclusively grow livestock feed. In Brazil, land clearing to grow chicken feed is responsible for the destruction of about 3 million acres of rainforest. These numbers only account for land cleared to feed animals. Growing soybeans in the Amazon rainforest are responsible for the clearing of over 100 million hectares of forest, releasing enough carbon into the atmosphere to increase the rate of global warming by fifty per cent. These numbers show that factory farming is highly destructive for our environment. A small change in our diet, at a worldwide scale, can bring encouraging results. “If the average American cuts just a quarter pound of beef a week from their diet, about one hamburger, it would be the equivalent of taking 10 million cars off the road for a year”, states Sujatha Bergen, Health Campaigns Director at The Natural Resources Defense Council. It won’t solve global warming but will certainly contribute towards improving it. 

Extreme famine is another issue that has been aggravated by the increase in meat consumption. There are a lot of people who do not have enough money to buy food or to even make it. According to a 2015 study from the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, a person switching from an animal-based diet to a plant-based diet can save up to USD 750 a year, which is significant in countries with limited resources. Meat is a very inefficient food source. It requires more energy, water and land to produce than any other food source. Animal agriculture uses a lot of grains and vegetables to overfeed livestocks. Instead, we could use those resources to feed people who desperately need nourishment. In that way, we are preserving our planet and dealing with one of the biggest scourges of the world. 

To conclude, either reducing our meat consumption or shifting to a vegan diet can contribute to lessening the damaging effects occurring on our planet. However, it demands the involvement and contribution of each individual to notice a significant change. Changing an eating pattern is difficult as we evolved this way culturally. Nevertheless, times are threatening and we need to adapt to this changing environment. To be able to have a sustainable future and preserve our planet, some actions are necessary. Veganism is not a religion or a clan and it should not divide our society but rather unite us.   

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