Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

Many people want to “go green” which includes driving a hybrid or electric car, taking shorter showers, recycling, turning lights off, the works. However, few people see the environmental benefits of simply giving up meat.

People tend to associate vegan and vegetarianism with millennial hipsters, but the diet and lifestyle is so much more than that. While the practicality of going vegan may not be doable for everyone (I’m not vegan), vegetarianism is an easier option and will have similar environmental benefits.

One of the major benefits of a non-meat diet is cutting the carbon footprint. As of a 2014 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report, livestock methane emissions makeup 39% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 55% of that is from beef cattle (cows, buffalo, sheep, and goats). Including forestry and fishing, the emissions are projected to increase 30% by 2050. By going vegan the emissions could be cut down by 70% and 63% for going vegetarian.

Not only do cows contribute to the greenhouse gas, they also have a direct influence on the deforestation of rainforests.  According to the Global Forest Atlas, cattle ranching accounts for 80% of current deforestation rates in the Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon Rainforest is especially at risk because Brazil is the largest exporter of cows in the world, supplying one quarter of the world’s market. Because of deforestation of all rainforests, 50,000 species are going extinct every year, which have many non-meat eaters asking: is that hamburger really worth all that?

Okay, so you’ve decided to cut beef out of your diet, but fish is okay, right? Not really. Pescetarianism is a widely supported diet were the only meat consumed is seafood. While the carbon footprint of not eating beef is reduced, you’re still contributing to the problems that over-fishing and drift net fishing cause.

Drift net fishing is the widely used fishing practice where a large fishnet (typically about 26-49 ft)  is dropped into the ocean to catch fish. The plus side to this method is the large amount of fish that can be caught at one time. The downside is ocean life such as sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins are being caught as well.

Being a vegetarian or vegan isn’t always the easiest option for everyone. Sophia Lauer explains how she would love to be a vegetarian but she hesitates because she is “such a picky eater to begin with, [she] doesn’t think [she] could survive that way.” Sophia has thought of making the change to a vegetarian or vegan diet because “it’s more environmentally sustainable and in the long run, it’s better for the planet.”

Although people like Sophia who tend to be picky eaters may be scared to make the change, it isn’t all that difficult. Kelly Riddle runs her own vegan food blog where she encourages others and shares her advice on the best ways to try veganism: “Cut things out gradually and replace them with better options. If you go ‘cold turkey’, then you’ll find yourself hungry and unsuccessful. Allow mistakes.”

This article is not meant to judge anyone for their food habits but rather offer another option and viewpoint that may never have been considered. At the end of the day, only you can choose what food you eat, and no matter if it contains meat and dairy or is completely plant based, it is time to seriously start considering how you’re affecting the environment and world around you.