We need an overhaul of how we eat and how we farm. Industrial animal agriculture is inhumane and morally reprehensible. It also contributes to global warming and is a leading cause of deforestation, water shortages and mass species extinction. In 2018, the Guardian published an article saying that eliminating or reducing meat and dairy consumption is the “single-biggest way” to lighten our personal impact on the planet. Does this mean we should all become vegans? Let’s consider a few things:

If we all became vegans…

Man-made greenhouse gas emissions would reduce by around 14.5% and there would be a great deal less methane in our environment (methane is a greenhouse gas more potent than CO2). Land used for meat and dairy production could be restored and reforested, water could be saved, grains used to feed cattle could be redirected and the environmental damage and animal suffering related to animal agriculture would come to an end.

Why we can’t all become vegans…

A better global diet needs to be intersectional. Instagram account, @the.mirror published a micro blog about the factors often overlooked and ignored when talking about veganism. These are food insecurity, living in a food desert, poverty, eating disorders, lack of food-related education, disabilities, food allergies and diseases… “There is so much more to veganism and animal rights than simply thinking [that] if everyone went vegan we will save the world.”

It is also important to consider that many traditional and indigenous cultures have survived in relative harmony with nature while hunting meat sustainably, respecting animals and the intricate balance of our ecosystem web. According to a study of 7978 households across the Global South, wild meat is still heavily relied upon as a source for important nutrition especially when other food sources are not readily available or accessible.

Another issue to consider is that agriculture that includes animals is not the problem: factory farming and its scale is the problem. Industrial agriculture is unethical and damaging. We need to rethink and rebuild our farming practices. Grazing animals (who are not dewormed or fed antibiotics) can play a critical role in regenerative agriculture, assisting to restore top soils and store carbon in the soil. Meat and dairy are often byproducts of this kind of agriculture. Now you might be thinking that if we switched to free-range, pasture fed animals we’d be good to go. But the United Nations reports that “livestock now use 30% of the earth’s entire land surface.”  Free-range, pasture fed animals would require even more land, food and water than factory farmed animals.

We have to farm much less meat.

If you are (or want to be) a vegan…

According to the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”

But Georgia Ede, a nutritional expert at Harvard University raises the issue of brain health. In her talk “Our Descent into Madness”, she mentions that amounts of DHA, a molecule imperative for proper brain function and heart health, is 59% lower in vegans than omnivores. Registered dietician Jessica Kotlowitz (Green Dietician) and expert on vegan nutrition says that vegans can get plenty of ALA from their diet (body converts ALA into DHA) but she warns that conversion rates are sometimes lower than they should be depending on age, sex, ethnicity, etc. “It is essential that all vegans take a DHA supplement in order to ensure long-term health”.

While it is possible for many people to be vegan and stay healthy, to do so one must have access to a wide variety of plant foods, supplements and nutritional information and education.

Finally

I have had a severe hormone imbalance, food intolerances and an anxiety disorder which improved after a long health journey that included trying veganism for a while. Following the guidance of health experts, I now maintain a predominantly plant-based diet, but have switched to low-carbohydrate and high fat with small amounts of sustainably farmed fish, eggs and the occasional dairy. I am finally healthier than I have ever been.

Whatever our personal opinions are on being vegan or eating meat, we need to address food insecurity, environmental issues, unethical food practices and people’s right to access healthy food. We have no excuse but to eat a more plant-centered diet with a focus on low-impact farming and buying local. Include or don’t include a few animal products.

As author Michael Pollan so eloquently says: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

  • Images: feature image by Dylan Nolte/Unsplash and above image supplied by writer