When I was 18 I started listening to Morrissey and Strike Anywhere—starkly different in their musical styles but similar in their stances on animal welfare—and went vegetarian. I wasn’t really thinking hard about politics or even the environment; I just didn’t want to eat animals because I didn’t support ending their adorable lives in the name of nuggets and burgers.
I ended up falling back into my natural omnivorous ways years later, because that’s how powerful fish tacos and bacon are. But inevitably, I felt compelled to phase meat out of my life again; for a while I would only eat “sustainable” seafood, but at a certain point I could no longer even justify that. A few months ago, I finally decided to go vegan.
This time my commitment is strong because I see that the stakes are really, really high. When I tell my extended family I can’t touch the chicken adobo on the table anymore, they think they get it—Dana thinks chickens are too cute to eat. Which is true. But animal cruelty is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole other side where, not only is the meat industry—with the help of the government—commodifying living creatures, but they’re also blatantly cashing in on our taste for meat with no regard for our health. (If you are political at all, I feel like you should care about this.)
And if you really look at the big picture, it’s clear that the meat and fishing industries have profound effects on the health of the planet, too. To the average person, all of this might sound like an extremist point of view, but the facts are there—it’s just a lot easier and more convenient to look the other way.
I recently watched the documentary Cowspiracy; I highly, highly recommend it whether you’re a card-carrying vegan or a veritable carnivore, because you will most definitely gain something from seeing it. As an environmental steward, a wildlife advocate, and just a human, I was blown away by the stats:
- Ten thousand years ago, wildlife made up 99 percent of the earth’s organisms. Today, humans and livestock make up 98 percent, and wildlife, only 2 percent.
- Livestock covers 45 percent of the earth’s total land.
- Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91 percent of Amazon deforestation.
- Up to 137 plant, animal, and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction.
- Scientists estimate as many as 650,000 whales, dolphins, and seals are killed by fishing vessels each year.
- Fifty million sharks are caught in fishing lines and nets each year.
- Eighty-two percent of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals that are raised as meat for western countries.
- Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
- Methane, which cows emit through burping and farting, is 25 to 100 times more destructive than CO2 over 20 years.
- Animal agriculture requires 34 to 76 trillion gallons of water annually, compared to 70 to 140 billion gallons annually for fracking.
Obviously, our food supply has a direct link to some major problems plaguing the planet. Even issues that don’t seem to affect us firsthand on a daily basis, like species extinction, play an undeniable role in whether or not humans can sustainably live on Earth for centuries to come. Whatever we do, the earth will find a way to rebalance itself—it always does. But if and when vital ecosystems and wildlife die out, we can be totally sure that we and our cows are not far behind.
It seems impossible to stop eating meat. We need protein (health is another issue for another post), it tastes too good—we rationalize till the cows come home. Yeah, I’m bummed that Shake Shack is off-limits because the veggie option—the crispy, juicy portobello sandwich—is stuffed with cheese. And you don’t even know my undying love for chocolate malt shakes. But to me, the momentary hedonistic joy of devouring these foods is so insignificant compared to having the choice to do what I can to give the planet the best chance to thrive.
I don’t have it perfectly figured out—I’m kind of a rice fiend, and rice fields are pretty big producers of methane, too. I’m not necessarily convinced that the world should go vegan because we don’t know if there’s a single diet that’s healthy for everyone. But I don’t really think anyone needs to be noshing on over 200 pounds of meat a year. All I’m saying is that if you read this, try to be mindful and check yourself before ordering a double-double or sipping grass-fed bone broth (there isn’t enough land on Earth to raise enough grass-fed cattle to feed the population). If you’re completely honest about whether or not it’s worth it, you might be surprised by the answer, and that could be a game changer.
Check the infographic from Cowspiracy for more info: