Even if you’ve been living under a rock, you’re bound to have heard of veganism—the practice of abstaining from the use of all animal products (particularly in the diet) which is lorded and loathed by many worldwide. Despite its divisive reputation, veganism shows the potential to not only positively impact your health, but also change the world for the better. Regardless of whether you are a newcomer to veganism or have given it a go in the past, there is no time like the present to dive into the key reasons why veganism should become a part of your life.
While there are a plethora of benefits that will impact us today, both individually and globally, veganism, and the many ideas it stands for, establish a precedent for a better future. We’ll break down the key benefits into three major categories: environment & sustainability, health, and animal welfare.
Veganism is key for environment and sustainability
Gram-for-gram, it has been long established that meat production has a wealth of environmental drawbacks. Most immediate are the spatial requirements for rearing livestock and the greenhouse gas emissions that come as a byproduct of the process.
A landmark study by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek consolidated much of this data in 2018, revealing that around 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are created by the meat industry. Putting that number into perspective, that amounts to more than those produced by all ships, planes, trucks, and cars—which are more often than not labeled as the key problem in reducing carbon emissions.
Similarly, Poore and Nemecek noted that although meat and dairy contributed 60% of agriculture’s total greenhouse gas emissions it only provides 18% of global calories. An imbalance that raises red flags of inefficiency and unsustainability.
More specifically, the same study weighed up the emissions and land usage required for each 100g of protein produced by various foods, alongside animal products. In the graphs below you can see the incredibly negative effect of beef production, along with other livestock, which require far more land and produce far more greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based alternatives which provide the same amount of nutrients.
Poore and Nemecek also note in their profoundly important paper that “impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes”, pointing to the conclusion that plant-based diets are unquestionably better for the environment.
Thus, if a large proportion of the population were to go vegan, we would not only be reducing our societal carbon emissions, but we would also be freeing up large portions of land which could then be used to grow these more efficient crops.
Increasing Agricultural Efficiency
Going vegan would also have some more indirect effects on global agriculture. Currently, to take an example, the UK houses around 35 million sheep, 10 million cattle, and 145 million chickens used for food production. But, of course, these animals all need to eat themselves, in order to produce the meat, milk, or eggs that end up in meals. The issue with this is that we throw a disproportionate amount of resources into raising this livestock and get relatively little in return.
To put it into numbers: only 3% of the total calories we provide to livestock turn into meat. This means that 97% of the calories given to them are essentially wasted in the process (and, even worse, end up contributing to the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions!).
This results in the staggering fact that 83% of global farmland is used to grow feed for livestock—not humans. Alongside this, 27% of all human freshwater usage goes into keeping livestock alive. Thus, by reducing the amount of reliant livestock bred for consumption we can reclaim many of these resources—mobilizing them to feed ourselves directly or produce things like biofuels.
It is estimated that reclaiming these existing agricultural resources for human consumption would be enough to nourish an additional 3.5 billion people—just under half of the population of the entire globe. And that is not even factoring in the additional, more efficient, production that could take place in the pastures reclaimed from space-inefficient livestock.
Ensure a Sustainable Future
It has been said that going vegan is the “single biggest way” to reduce our environmental impact on a personal level. That comes from a combination of reducing the carbon emissions levied by the meat industry while also reducing the calories wasted in the rearing of livestock.
This means that your choice to go vegan may not only have a profound impact on climate change but will also help to promote sustainable farming which may very well help to stave of starvation and famine due to the colossal increase in human food production.
Veganism is great for health
One of the most haunting myths surrounding veganism is that it does not provide enough, or all the correct, nutrients. And, well, this is a myth we must dispel immediately as false. Numerous studies have found vegan diets, when monitored and understood, to be “one of the healthiest diets”. To put it incredibly simply, as Mascha Davis from NomadistaNutrition.com has “Eating more plants is always good”.
Vegan foods are typically low or completely devoid of unhealthy types of fats. Most notable of which are saturated fats and trans fats, which are commonly found in animal products. While these fats are associated with heart disease, cancers, gallstones, kidney disease, and possibly even type 2 diabetes, they are also high in calories and associated with putting on weight.
Alongside this, vegan meals are often lower in calories and higher in fiber while still maintaining good levels of nutrition, meaning losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight on a vegan diet can be easier.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can go into a shop and snap up all the vegan cookies expecting to stay slim—but it does mean that you may find eating well as a vegan more healthy. What’s more is that both the British Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognize that a vegan diet is suitable for individuals of every age and stage of life, meaning that no matter where you are in life, you may well find health benefits from becoming vegan.
Maintaining a Nutritious Diet
Of course, nobody can deny the fact that meat is a nutrient-rich food, however, it is commonly often over-valued nutritionally when compared to plant-based alternatives. For example, the same Poore and Nemecek study found that meat and dairy provided just 18% of calories and 37% of protein to people worldwide—numbers that should immediately dispel the myths that vegans cannot get enough calories or protein.
With protein out of the way, the elephants in the room are vitamins and minerals such as Iron, Calcium, vitamin D, Omega-3, and B12. These nutrients are abundant in animal-based diets but are worth the attention of vegans as they can be lacking in certain plant-based diets. That said, they are not in short supply if you know where to look. Pulses and wholemeal bread are strong sources of iron and leafy greens such as broccoli are packed with calcium, iron and vitamin D. Omega 3 can be sourced in certain oils (flaxseed, rapeseed, and soya) or soy-based foods, such as tofu. That leaves B12 as a lone vitamin in need of locating. Fortunately for vegans, many plant-based alternatives know this all too well and are thus fortified with B12. From soya drinks and breakfast cereals to yeast extracts, B12 can be easily obtained or taken directly through supplements. In all, this means that it is relatively easy for vegans to get all their necessary nutrients—especially so in the modern-day.
Avoid the Negatives of Meat
Meat and animal-based diets have been identified to have a number of health risks associated with them. For example, one large-scale meta-analysis evaluating the dietary risks across 27 years in 195 countries suggests that eating 100g of red meat a day increases the risk of diabetes by 19%, colorectal cancer by 17% and stroke by 11%.
This only gets worse with processed meats. The WHO identified that each extra 50g of processed meat eaten per day could increase the eater’s risk of colorectal cancer by 18%, flagging up processed meat as one to most certainly avoid. To put this in perspective, this is in line with the increased risk of cancer seen from asbestos, smoking or being exposed to radioactive plutonium.
Similarly, one remarkable study saw vegans had between a 47% and 78% reduced chance of developing diabetes compared to meat-eaters. A similar benefit was reaped by vegetarians, this time between 38% and 61%.
In short, the data clearly informs us that overconsumption of meat—especially of the processed kind—can greatly increase health risks. By comparison, the vegan diet minimizes many of these risks, helping vegans to have a shot at a longer, healthier life.
Sustaining Future Health
While personal health is a huge factor for us all, it’s also worth noting that the future of global health is put in jeopardy by the over-cultivation of livestock. This comes from the industry’s rampant overuse of antibiotics.
In the US, 80% of antibiotics used are given to livestock. This is to help prevent surges of disease that would otherwise ravage them due to their cramped, unsanitary living conditions. While this throws up many moral and ethical questions, which we will address in a moment, it also puts the world in great danger due to the build-up of antibiotic resistance.
In short, antibiotics are used to prevent and treat bacterial infections, but bacteria can change and mutate to find ways to resist antibiotics. When the bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics we have, we effectively lose anyway to prevent or treat their infections. This is alarming not only because it puts our livestock at risk of future disease, but it also puts humanity at risk because such diseases can become infectious to humans.
The WHO has addressed this concern directly explaining “a lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak”—a threat which we can surely all put into perspective while living in the shadow of COVID-19.
The animals need you to go vegan
While we are rarely privy to how our foods are made, once acknowledged it is hard to separate a piece of meat from the pain and suffering endured by a being. The meat industry, of course, thrives on the fact that individuals are able to separate steak from suffering. They often do so by touting labels like “free-range” or “organic” which consumers equate to a better quality of life. However, with rules and regulations often being abused, avoided or stuck to by a bare minimum, it is hard to label the meat industry as anything other than an industry that thrives on suffering.
Globally, we kill around 200 million animals every single day. As of February 2021, that is around twice the death toll of coronavirus being intentionally killed within each 24-hour period.
While this includes many animals who will be used for meat, it also includes a variety of more sinister deaths. Most notably the killing of countless males as soon as they are born, as they are deemed as unfavorable, especially in factories that produce milk and eggs.
By now we are all acutely aware of the abhorrent conditions of factory farms. Farms where pigs are raised in windowless sheds, never able to see the sun or encounter nature’s wonder. Chickens are pushed into tiered cages resulting in in-fighting that is addressed by punishing them—clipping their beaks, cutting off their claws and gassing male chicks at birth. Dairy cows are forced to breed continually to ensure their milk supply continues to flow, while their calves are yanked from them at birth leaving both mother and child distressed and alone.
All these gruesome images and much more find themselves at the very heart of the meat industry. Yet the businesses themselves hide these grotesque realities behind colorful packages and slick brand names.
What’s worse is that labels such as “free-range” or “organic” often do not hold the meaning that many consumers expect. For example, “free-range” hens may still share one square meter with 5 others. A number that is unquestionably cruel.
In short, mass veganism a sure-fire way to reduce the amount of unnecessary human-induced suffering in the world. After all, the meat industry is founded on birthing animals destined for death. And to them, each animal is worth no more than a fraction of their price tag.
For reasons of environmentalism, health, and animal welfare, it seems pretty clear that veganism has a strong and positive impact both on an individual and global scale. This means veganism is certainly a thing you should try, however much you are able to commit to it.
But besides the benefits listed above, there is also one more—and that is the psychological benefits. I think it is fair to say that none of us want suffering to be a staple of human society. Yet, unfortunately, the meat industry is one built entirely on suffering. Thus, by becoming vegan many individuals find greater contentment with life—finding new purpose, reducing their anxieties with the world, meeting new like-minded people and, most of all, making a change they believe in.
Of course, any vegan will encounter haters. Those who hurl meat jokes or misunderstand your intentions, but the key is to ensure you know why you are making this decision. With your understanding of your decision under your belt, such petty hate will never be able to push you from your path—even if it may rile you up.
And while becoming vegan may be easy, many will have slip-ups every now and then. Be it accidentally or succumbing to a particular desire. Again, knowing your reasons for becoming vegan will help you out here and help to pull you back on track. It’s also important to remember that you shouldn’t spite yourself for such slips, they should instead simply serve as reminders to put you back on course. No matter for what percentage of your life you are vegan—you will be making a big difference to yourself and the world.
In all, veganism can improve personal health and wellbeing, contribute to reducing the global suffering of animals and help to sustain our environment for many generations to come. So, if you want a hard and fast answer about whether you should be vegan, the answer is most certainly yes. However, it is up to you to weigh up the benefits to ensure you are making a strong, meaningful commitment to a lifestyle that will make the world a better place.