Agriculture in general has become a sprawling environmental disaster.
The reason I don’t eat animals is because I consider their personal experience of reality, and don’t believe it is ethical to treat them as property. I certainly don’t want to kill and eat them.
As it happens, veganism is better for the planet. All the energy humans consume originally comes from the sun. Plants and most algae contain chloroplasts, which enable them to photosynthesise, and harness the sun’s energy, utilising it for their own survival. When animals eat plants, they, in turn, use this energy to go about their lives. Some of these animals are eaten by other animals, and again, those animals make use of the energy that originated from the sun.
With each additional step in the ‘food chain’, the transfer of energy will become less efficient, as each organism will have used energy to sustain themselves, and much of it will have been transformed into other types of energy, and have dissipated back out into the universe. The further we get from photosynthesis, the more inefficient the process.
The nature of energy transfer means we have to feed a lot of calories to farm animals to get relatively few out. It can take up to 26 calories from plants to produce 1 calorie from meat, and around 6kg of protein must go into an animal to produce 1kg. We can reduce this deficit if the animals we eat don’t use so much energy; if we keep them still, don’t allow them to live very long and essentially make life as miserable and fruitless as possible.
A vegan diet uses around 20 times less land, often thousands of times less water, and there is no need to administer hormones and antibiotics to animals. In the UK, 50% of all antibiotics are given routinely to farmed animals, and in the U.S it’s 80%.
Obviously, these are all very strong arguments in favour of a vegan diet. However, I am invariably told that my diet is harmful for the planet; sometimes I am told it is more damaging than eating meat.
I am told that small animals like field mice are killed when my crops are harvested. This argument holds no water, as far more land would be used to grow crops to feed animals to feed to me than if I stuck to a plant based diet. This would also free up woodland, so the little mice can frolic, free from harassment by combine harvesters.
Another argument is that we cannot sustain ourselves on grass, so it is efficient to use cattle to graze on grassland, and then have a more nutritious food source; the poor cow. Swathes of grassland is not good for the environment; the uniform, green desert means it is impossible for many other species of wildlife to live there. Currently, 26% of arable land is used for grazing cattle. A further 33% is used to grow crops to feed livestock. Woodland and rainforest is being leveled so this monoculture can thrive.
But it’s not all about livestock. There are many types of plant production that are damaging the environment. Simply adopting a plant-based diet is not enough. Palm oil is ostensibly vegan, but the scale and methods of its production is devastating rainforests, and endangering orangutans and tigers, as well as releasing carbon from the ancient peat bogs that lie beneath the annihilated forests.
Corn syrup, coffee and soya production all have their own evils. Corporations exploit poor farmers, and export crops from impoverished regions to satisfy our bloated western diet. Human population growth across the globe also drives this demand for crops and livestock; tackling that will take education, birth-control and the emancipation of women.
As someone who cares about the environment, I must be conscientious in my choices as a consumer.
But the harm caused by plant production is not a reason to eat animals. Not only is it counterproductive, (60% of corn and 80-98% of soya is fed to livestock) but I am not going to eat individuals who experience emotions because capitalist agricultural titans are ecologically bankrupt. The solution to unethical plant production is not eating sentient beings. Even if it were better for the environment to kill and eat animals, I would not be prepared to do that.
The scientific consensus continues to be that a plant based diet can feed more people using less resources.
If we truly want to tackle the issues surrounding plant production, let’s do that, not use it as a justification to continue eating meat.