At the end of a recent post sardonically asking readers if they preferred oil or manure in the water, I mentioned that eating less—and preferably no—meat, eggs, and dairy products can help reduce both manure and oil spills, as it takes 10 times more fossil fuels to produce meat than to produce vegan foods. Since that post, the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) resource panel, has released a report stating that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital if we are to halt climate change and other environmental problems. The U.N. report also suggests curbing fossil fuel use, which can also be achieved by going vegan.
Experts predict that there will be at least 9 billion people in the world by 2050, and global meat consumption is projected to double by that time. Meat consumption has been steadily increasing in China and other countries that once followed a more sustainable diet rich in vegetables and whole soy foods. According to Scientific American, the UN report points out that more than half of the world's crops are currently used to feed animals, and that conserving fuel and reducing pollution and greenhouse gasses will "only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."
As things stand now, more than one-third of the fossil fuels produced in America are used to raise animals for food. Massive amounts of grains and soybeans are grown for animal feed (it takes about 700 calories worth of feed to produce just one 100-calorie piece of beef) and are transported to processors in gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing 18-wheelers. More energy is used up operating feed mills and factory farms, trucking animals to slaughter, operating slaughterhouses, and then trucking the meat to processing plants, and so on. (Some of these stages are needed to produce and store vegan foods too, of course, but if everyone goes vegan, there will be no need for feed mills, factory farms, and slaughterhouses—and the multiple tractor-trailer trips between them.)
Much like BP, I don't know how to stop the ever-spreading oil spill in the gulf (although Matter of Trust's "hairmat" program seems worth pursuing), but following the basic "use less, spill less" concept can help prevent future spills.
And since eating a vegan diet can help mitigate climate change, stop forest destruction, and reduce pollution—as well as animal suffering and many human health problems—I hope everyone will finally heed the U.N.'s call to go vegan. As the UNEP's Janet Salem pointed out, many environmental problems can be traced to our choice of food. If you haven't already done so, why not take the 30-day veg pledge and find out how easy it is to be green?