Happy World Vegan Day!
This day isn’t necessarily about pushing everyone to adopt veganism, but rather to raise awareness about the impact our diets can have on the environment.
Cattle grazing is a leading cause of deforestation worldwide. In the Amazon, for example, it is responsible for 80% of all deforestation (1). Since cattle require a large amount of land to graze, cattle farmers must cut trees in order to clear land for pastures. As such, the consumption of meat and dairy products has contributed to the degradation and destruction of lands throughout the globe. In Brazil specifically, the rate of deforestation has accelerated steadily in the past few decades, especially in the Cerrado region in the northern state of Minas Gerais, as you can see in this graph.
Consuming an excessive amount of animal products has become a hallmark of our diets in the past few decades. As countries become richer, they go through a so-called ‘nutrition transition,’ shifting away from a more plant-based diet to a substantial reliance on animal products. As more and more countries go through this transition, it is expected that over 40% of the world’s population will shift to a more animal-heavy diet (2). This transition is reflected in land-use patterns across the globe, as nations continue to allocate land to cattle grazing and growing crops that end up as animal feed, rather than using these harvests to feed humans.
How can you help address this issue right from your dining table?
Well, it all starts in the grocery store. Rather than cutting out animal products entirely, try to simply reduce the frequency of your animal-heavy meals (instead of having red meat 3x a week, try cutting it down to one). Reducing portion sizes is also an easy way to reduce the carbon footprint of your diet. The good news is that nowadays, most supermarkets offer yummy alternatives to animal products for a reasonable price. It is also important to note that not all animal products are created equal: beef production for example can emit 250 times more greenhouse gases than dairy, eggs, poultry, and pork production (thanks to cow’s methane burps) (3).
Remember, small changes can have a big impact over time. Adjusting your diet can help reduce emissions from the agricultural sector and prevent forest loss. As long as you stay committed, you can be sure that you are doing your part.
(1) Nepstad DC, Stickler CM, Filho BS, Merry F. Interactions among Amazon land use, forests and climate: prospects for a near-term forest tipping point. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2008 May 27;363(1498):1737-46. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2007.0036. PMID: 18267897; PMCID: PMC2373903. (2) Tilman, David, et al. “Global Food Demand and the Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 108, no. 50, 2011, pp. 20260–20264., https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1116437108. (3) http://www.environmentreports.com/change-your-diet-change-our-destiny/#section2