Save Yourself and the Planet

It’s no secret that our planet is hurting. The environment, the animals on it, the human beings that are part of the animal kingdom — all of it. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming. How can we, on an individual level, try to solve some of these problems?

Sure, we can recycle and use less water when we shower. We can repurpose things and cut the plastic on six-pack rings. But ultimately, one of the greatest (and, perhaps, healthiest) things you can do is to be a vegan.

No, really. Aside from the obvious repercussions of saving animals by not eating them, there are plenty of other utilitarian reasons for being a vegan. These benefits range from being easier on the environment to increasing healthy eating habits that lead to better overall health and less medical expenses.

According to a study done at the University of Kuopio in Finland, their results suggested that an “uncooked extreme vegan diet causes a decrease in bacterial enzymes and certain toxic products that have been implicated in colon cancer risk.” Even though this was done with an extreme vegan diet, the idea still holds up: it’s been known to substantially aid against type 2 diabetes, reduce the chances of cardiac failure and other risks, combat rheumatoid arthritis and, obviously, combat obesity. Vegans also have better antioxidant statuses than non-vegans, on average. There are studies that show that there’s just about every reason to be a vegan if you’re concerned with your health, and that the ideas that vegans are protein-starved and the like are simply myths. One must only do a simple Google search to discover that there are vegan bodybuilders and professional athletes that get along just fine without consuming any animals or their byproducts in their diet.

So, in addition to simply staying healthy, we can associate this with the bigger picture of health care. If we can instill healthier lifestyles (encouraging exercise is, of course, crucial as well), then, chances are, there will be less people with severe health problems, thus decreasing the burden on our health care system and on insurance claims. While there are still going to be health problems regardless of dieting factors, if we can help mitigate the burden of health problems on ourselves and on other people, why not do it? It quite literally saves lives, AND money.

The other major benefit of being a vegan is the substantial environmental impact that the meat and dairy industries have on our planet.

According to Environmental Defense, if everyone substituted one meal of chicken per week to a vegetarian substitute, it would have the same impact on carbon emissions as taking half a million cars off the roads. It’s quite literally that simple.

It also takes approximately 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of cow meat because of their own daily consumption. In contrast, it only takes about 180 gallons for one pound of wheat flour.

The fishing industry destroys the floors of our ocean and kills dolphins and other animals with the nets they use to catch mass amounts of fish.

In addition, 80 percent of the land in the U.S. that’s used for agriculture is used for farming animals. Livestock is perhaps the least efficient and least sustainable source of food that our planet has to offer; livestock alone eats more grain and corn per year than people do.

Pigs alone eat tens of millions of tons of it every year. Now, imagine diverting all of that grain and corn to people that actually need it in parts of the world where starvation is a real issue.

There’s also pollution. Every day, factory farms produce billions of manure that end up in our waterways. With all the bacteria and drugs that are pumped into livestock in order to make them produce more meat than they ought to (chickens can barely walk in many cases because their breasts are oversized and too heavy), this causes our oceans to have skyrocketing algae populations.

Because of this pollution, there’s a spot in the Gulf of Mexico about half the size of Maryland where there is essentially no sea animal or plant life, which could be easily averted with less pollution.

Honestly, I could go on with more and more facts from all kinds of different studies that would inform my point. However, I think the point here is clear enough; the best thing we as consumers can do for the planet and for ourselves is to cut meat and other animal products out of our diet. Plain and simple. If you consider yourself to be any sort of environmentalist, the most powerful thing you can do is be vegan. There’s no skirting the issue. It’s costing us billions of dollars to fight the pollution and health care crises that everyone on our planet is dealing with.

Going vegan is easy. It’s easier now than ever, with all of the products and restaurants that have been popping up. It’s not just the latest trend. It’s a movement based on facts. Facts that support why our planet can’t support our meat addiction any longer, and facts that support why, if we keep this up, our bodies will be more unhealthy than ever. So, why not make a change?

Zachary Risinger is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached at zrisinge@uci.edu.