The Connection Between Humans, Animals and the Planet
by Tracey Narayani Glover
Too often human beings fail to see the interconnection that exists between the non-human animals and the environment that surrounds us. As some vegans adopt a plant-based diet upon learning about the suffering of farmed animals, others are influenced by the devastating impact of animal agriculture on the environment, while many make the switch to benefit their own health. The truth is, these issues are not separate.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector consumes more edible protein—40 percent of the entire world’s agricultural output—than it produces, while occupying 30 percent of the planet’s total land surface.
Animal-based foods such as meat, dairy and eggs are highly resource-intensive compared to plant-based foods. For example, an acre of land used to raise cattle for slaughter yields 20 pounds of usable protein compared to the 356 pounds of protein that an acre of soybeans would produce.
Product labeling that indicates varying levels of humane and sustainable practices entices conscious consumers but is often misleading. As an example, consider that it is standard industry practice to kill all male chicks as soon as they hatch, whether they are on conventional farms or free-range organic farms, regardless of humane labeling. Similarly, it cannot be assumed that a grass-fed label is indicative of sustainability. Living conditions involve less suffering and fossil fuel use than in factory farms, but according to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology, pasture-raised cattle produce at least 20 percent more methane than grain-finished animals, on a per-pound-of-meat basis, and they also require more land and water.
The United Nations reports that at least 20 million people worldwide die each year as a result of malnutrition, while estimates have been made that if Americans alone reduced their meat intake by just 10 percent, 100 million people could be fed with the land, water and energy that would be freed up as a result. As pointed out by The World Watch Institute, the continued growth of meat output creates competition for grain between affluent meat-eaters and the world’s poor.
As much of the world’s population struggles to obtain enough food, many Americans are consuming too much protein and suffering from diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, stroke and auto-immune diseases. Research shows a high correlation between rates of these “diseases of affluence” and the consumption of animal protein.
But there is good reason for hope, as a growing body of nutrition science shows that a high percentage of these diseases can be prevented, or even reversed, with diet. According to Nutritional Biochemist T. Colin Campbell, who co-authored The China Study, “The same diet that is good for prevention of cancer is also good for the prevention of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and other diseases. That diet is a whole foods, plant-based diet.”
Note that there’s more to worry about than the antibiotics, steroids and hormones found in most animal products available today, making organic options less than ideal as well. “The real danger of animal products is the nutrient imbalances, regardless of the presence or absence of those nasty chemicals. Long before modern chemicals were introduced into our food, people still began to experience more cancer and more heart disease when they started to eat more animal-based foods,” says Campbell.
One of the biggest barriers to adopting a plant-based diet is the misconception that a vegan diet lacks essential nutrients or adequate protein levels. According to the American Dietetic Association, and many leading world health organizations, a properly planned vegan diet can provide all nutritional needs at all stages of life from infancy, through pregnancy, and into old age. Even in the most demanding physical conditions, a vegan diet is sufficient, as demonstrated by vegan athletes such as Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, mixed martial arts champion Mac Danzig, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and two-time Badwater Ultramarathon winner Scott Jurek.
Is it a coincidence that the diet that can prevent suffering of animals is the same diet that can reverse the process of global warming and keep humans healthy into old age? What is good for the animals is good for the planet and good for our own health.
Tracey Narayani Glover, JD, E-RYT 200, is an animal advocate, writer, chef/owner of The Pure Vegan and a yoga and meditation teacher in Mobile, AL. Connect at ThePureVegan.com and ARCForAllBeings.org.