Do vegans cause environmental destruction?

17 Jan

Let me preface by saying that I personally do believe there’s much validity to adhering to a vegan diet, or as I prefer to call it, a Non Animal Protocol (NAP), as a pathway to longterm health. Yes, there are numerous studies purporting the benefits of eschewing all animal products (see China Study et al).

However, some important facts have come to light regarding regarding the crop burden and carbon “foodprint” caused by our ever-growing hunger for these worldly food stuffs, particularly quinoa and soy (two major players in many vegan/vegetarian diets due to their respective protein contents).

Food fun facts:

  • Soy production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America
  • In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken due to global demand increasing prices
  • In rural areas of Bolivia and Peru, market pressure forces once biodiverse lands to become more monoculturistic due to demand for quinoa and soy alone
  • Farmers in South America can no longer afford to purchase the crops their growing in their own lands
  • World food security, at the local level becomes threatened by global demand for these unique crops, leaving the locals in the dust, increasing risk for poverty

An anecdote: A hyper-conscious individual who eats only plant-based foods for “sustainability,” eats mounds of soy and quinoa in Vermont for years. He hears a news report about global poverty in Peru and vows to be a “part of the change.”  He then travels on a mission trip to Peru (where both quinoa and soy crops are grown), to combat local the poverty for a few weeks, and then returns home and continues eating the same diet he has always consumed, oblivious still the world impact this local decision is making.

It fascinates me that we believe that by eating such plant-based foods, we reduce our own “carbon footprint,” when the reality is that, the food system is now way more complex that we could have ever fathomed. In today’s hyper connected economy, all of our decisions can have a global import.

Yes, we should all eat more consciously and open our minds to the possibility that maybe eating all foods, animal or not, are actually the least impactful on our respective environments.

Some things to posit while eating consciously:

  • Eat foods grown locally in your particular area to reduce global burden
  • The best ecological systems include the raising of meat (see Dan Barber)
  • Eat consciously and be aware of who grew your food
  • Ecological conditions should (help) dictate personal diet
  • Ecological resources can point towards eating meat and produces better global, market conditions

I’ll leave you from a quote from Dan Barber, Chef and Owner of Blue Hill Farm and Restaurant:

“There is no healthy ecological system that I’ve ever seen that doesn’t include animals — there just doesn’t. Because the manure from the animals is a free, free ecological resource that amends the soil that gives you better-tasting and healthful vegetables. ”

Sources:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans-stomach-unpalatable-truth-quinoa

http://www.slate.com/articles/video/conversations_with_slate/2012/03/chef_dan_barber_on_why_vegetarians_should_consider_eating_meat_video_.html

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