• Anika Wadhera

The Benefits of a Vegetarian Lifestyle

Updated: Mar 2

34,722. That’s how many animals are killed every second around the world for food. With such a staggering statistic, it may appear that becoming a vegetarian wouldn't make a huge difference. Yet, when observing the effects of replacing just one meal consisting of animal products with a vegetarian meal, it becomes clear that this lifestyle is one of the most important tools we have to combat climate change.

Environmental benefits of vegetarianism:

1. Fewer greenhouse gas emissions

Livestock accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans, which is more than cars, planes, trains, and other forms of transportation combined. Transitioning to a vegan or vegetarian diet could reduce food-related emissions by 70% or 63%, respectively, as one-third of the fossil fuels produced in the U.S. go toward meat production.

2. Less water usage

While only 60 pounds of water are required to produce a pound of potatoes, one pound of beef requires over 20,000 lbs of water, and one gallon of milk needs 8,000 pounds of water. An average pig farm uses 75 million gallons of fresh water each year, and large farms may need as much as an entire city. In a climate where droughts and water scarcity are becoming more common, it is imperative that we reduce the amount of water required by farming, which uses 70% of water available to humans.

3. Better land use

As the world’s population continues to grow, so does our need for land. 30% of the available land for humans is used for livestock or growing food for animals. In fact, if the food fed to animals was instead fed to humans, we would have more than enough food to solve the issue of world hunger.

Clearing land for livestock is one of the key drivers of deforestation—seven football fields’ worth of land is bulldozed every minute to make more space for animals or their food production. Annually, this adds up to 6 million hectares of forest, an area equivalent to twice the size of Belgium. Overgrazing leads to flooding, soil erosion, desertification, and the destruction of fragile ecosystems, especially in developing nations. Additionally, around a fifth of mangrove forests have been destroyed since 1980 due to aquaculture farms; their loss is significant, as they counteract the devastating effects of sea level rise in tropical regions. The area we already have is more than sufficient for the agricultural lands necessary to feed a vegan population, reducing deforestation and helping restore life in biodiversity hotspots.

4. Less Pollution

Emissions and waste from dense factory farms affects our air, water, and land. Not only are greenhouse gases emitted, but the ammonia produced largely contributes to acid rain. Ozone pollution endangers nearby communities, leading to a multitude of respiratory conditions, such as chest pain and inflammation.

Marine ecosystems are also negatively impacted, as runoff from agriculture is the top source of pollution in US waterways. Dead zones are created when large quantities of animal waste from factory farms and fertilizer end up in the ocean. This causes massive algal blooms that consume all of the oxygen in the water, killing much of the marine life in the area.

These dead zones plagued by algal blooms around the Mississippi River are nearly the size of Maryland, but reducing meat consumption could make them small or even non-existent.