In our current times, climate change and the thought of human destruction is peering around the corner, waiting to strike. It seems as though our society continues to live with these intricate ideas of "someone else will save us," usually through the lens of rose colored glasses. Maybe this is why citizens are not heeding the advice given by scientists and researchers. The seemingly endless articles and research performed to educate and inform the standard citizen of solutions, are prettier when viewed through rose colored glasses, but it is time to take our glasses off. We should take action and do what our leaders are urging us to do: adopt a vegetarian diet. Adopting and adjusting to a vegetarian diet is known to have many benefits for the environment, along with our health and the economy (and obviously animals too). It can be a challenge, and it is impossible to convince everyone, but any small change is enough to make a difference, and hopefully everyone's small lifestyle change will add up to create a beautiful mathematical creation that promotes life and longevity for all existence, from the zooplankton of our oceans to the children who are born right in this very moment.
Whether from research or skimming headlines, it should be well known that our planet is in danger right now. The #1 way to counteract the damage the human race has created is to stop eating meat, or at the very least red meats. The reasons why seem to be endless.
Currently, 50% of greenhouse gas emissions are from beef and lamb products, while 8-10% is from food waste. 60% of the carbon emissions in the world are directly from the production of food! This footprint is larger than "every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocket ship combined," (UN Environment Program). According to the UN, lowering our intake of meat and replacing it with vegetables is the most efficient way to combat these carbon emissions. Additionally, 80% of land is used for agricultural purposes. Is there something more efficient we could be doing with our lands? Of course there is! If this land was replaced with forest and vegetation, the plant life could capture the carbon in the air and aid humans in fighting against change.
Now, one could argue that the carbon emissions and their current levels that are being released are helping the trees and forests thrive, and this is true but to an extent. Specifically in the Northern Hemisphere, trees are flourishing because of these emissions. The problem is the lack of balance in the ecosystem. Despite the fact that some trees are flourishing, the majority are not, and regardless there are not enough trees to form a healthy symbiotic relationship with the current level of carbon emissions. This lack of balance will eventually lead to so much heat in the environment that vegetation will begin to die off (and continue dying off until change is made).
So what can a vegetarian diet to change this?
If everyone went vegetarian by 2050, the emissions related to food production would decline 60%
Additionally, if everyone were to become vegan, the emission levels related to food would drop over 70%.
These numbers are striking, and clearly show that there are immense benefits to the Earth if humans decide to go vegetarian. But these numbers are only accurate at a global level, so what would happen if only YOU changed your diet? Well, the average person's carbon footprint is 20 metric tons. The average carbon footprint of a vegetarian is only 10 metric tons. Simply changing your diet will cut your contribution to climate change in half! Now imagine if a mass amount of people followed suit as well.... this is the change we want to see.
There are numerous health benefits for switching to a vegetarian diet. In addition, I have never heard of anyone suffering from negative health consequences due to being a vegetarian nor have I found any examples of such in my research on this topic. That doesn't mean that there isn't a right and wrong way to be vegetarian though.
Being a vegetarian can have numerous benefits if you do it right! Eliminating meat is great for your health. Vegetarians are 25% less likely to die from heart disease. In addition, the best foods to consume in an effort to build protection for your heart are vegetarian as well. These include grains, legumes, and nuts. Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet in conjunction with eliminating meat will lower your risk of cancer, and vegetarians have been shown to have a 50% less chance of developing type-2 diabetes.
Vegetarianism has been shown to reduce heart disease, cancer, and bone issues.
Let's think this through thoroughly though. If you cut out meat, you need to replace it with something else. Ideally one would add more fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, and other plant based options to eat a well rounded diet. But if you transition to a vegetarian diet and consume a large amount of starches, white grains, processed sugar, and do not increase your vegetable amount, you can hurt your health more than you were while eating meat. The health benefits will essentially be nonexistent and create more health risks. Therefore it is extremely important to remember.
What about protein sources? Iron? Vitamin B-12? These are essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function properly. Protein and iron can be found in many many places besides meat, such as eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, chickpeas, peas and whole grains. Protein powders are available at health stores as well. Another important point to keep in mind is that everything we eat contains some amount of protein and iron in it. Everything you eat from breakfast through your midnight snack contains protein, and it all adds up. Very very rarely are individuals in the United States protein deficient, regardless of their diet (or lack of). Additionally, if you do not track your calories or macros, you will still reach the amount of protein needed DAILY to live and maintain a healthy life. Women tend to be deficient in iron more than men due to menstruation, but there are iron supplements available (that will work in conjunction with Vitamin C). Regardless, the same argument for protein applies to iron and it is still rare to be deficient or deficient in a life threatening sense.
Vitamin B-12 is a vitamin only found in animal products, but if one consumes dairy products (aka if you aren't vegan) then you will have no issues consuming the recommended amount of B12.
If done correctly, vegetarians experience incredible health benefits solely due to their diet.
Being a vegetarian can benefit the economy. We can save money by not eating meat! Who would have thought. Remember when we established that the meat on your plate should be replaced with more nutritious plant based options such as vegetables and grains? Well these exact foods are less expensive than the meat you were previously purchasing. Meat tends to be more expensive than healthier alternatives.
In addition, and even more exciting, the United States could save $180 billion in medical costs alone (remember all of the heart disease talk?). If the country were to become plant based we could save $250 billion or more. And, currently the plant based industry is bringing in over $13 billion in the United States. This number is predicted to grow more than $13 billion in the next ten years. If we switch to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, governments will be forced to make change in relation to support this shift in our society. We will also bring in money too.
On a slightly different note, if everyone were to cut out meat, the land currently being used for meat production could instead be used to grow plant based food for people suffering with food insecurity and hunger. 350 million people can receive food if this shift (although drastic) were to be made.
We have taken a deep dive into the world and information regarding vegetarianism and its all around benefits for many people. We addressed some of the "risks" uneducated people might propose, and we have effectively removed our rose colored glasses to see the picture as clear as day: we should all be adapting a diet that promotes the health of the planet. Ideally, we would all be vegetarian. This is extremely unlikely but the more people who make the shift, the better the outcome will be for our health, our economy, and our planet. This shift might feel challenging to some, but I would argue that any small change makes a difference because each small act adds up. Every choice we make adds up to create a picture of ourselves and the world that we live in. It is my hope that we can all begin to create pictures of a healthy world and habitable home with our lifestyle. We already know the first and best place to start.
Maren Hoflund MT HHP, is a massage therapist and holistic health practitioner based in San Diego. This her self created space where she explores topics such as mental and physical health, self care, spirituality, and child development; in addition to her poetry and prose.