Vegetarianism – Is It Really Better Than Meat For Our Environment?

Environmental Issues
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Vegetarianism is growing so popular so fast that it has become some sort of nutritional trend. People who eat meat are castigated and seen as the prime enemies of the environment. Prominent people have come out to defend vegetarianism, even going as far as claiming that the diet reversed a health condition they were battling. Actress Anne Hathaway, for instance, adopted vegetarianism because she “wanted to lose weight” (Booth n.p). She backtracked barely three years later, noting that she neither felt healthy nor strong from her change of diet. The misunderstanding could also be true for environmental justifications for vegetarianism. Many more people have adopted a vegan diet because of the buzz and later abandoned it after digging deep and finding facts around the vegetarianism. While the growing number of proponents of vegetarianism have claimed that the diet is wholesomely better for the environment, the reality is that certain vegetables consume more water, require more energy during production than meat, and, as a result, increase emissions thus greatly endangering the environment.

A renowned Czech model, Petra Nemcova, and many others adopted vegetarianism because it could “save the planet”, the truth is, eating a vegan diet could be better than meat for our environment (Smith n.p.). In fact, Egan (n.p.) explicitly states that a vegetarian diet could save the planet because it reduces emissions, groundwater pollution, and animal-waste runoff. The claim is not only untrue but also introduces an entirely trivial matter of very little concern for environmentalists and conservationists - animal waste runoff. In most discussions between vegetarianism and the environment, animal-waste runoff is seldom a significant topic because while they could be a problem in some places, it is more of a sanitation issue than a real environmental concern. In fact, animal-waste runoff could benefit the environment when they decompose and release life-giving nutrients to plants. Since it is argued that forestation reduces greenhouse gas emissions, the fact that animal-waste runoff supports the growth of vegetation could mean that it has a net impact of reducing carbon footprint. Yet this argument could just be as trivial as the associated claim that vegetarianism saves the planet through the reduction of animal-waste runoff. However, if the claim was to be accurate, the solution would not be vegetarianism. According to Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community (LPELC) (n.p.), animal-waste runoff, considered as manure, end up in water and reduces the quality and standards of environmental water. Solving this through vegetarianism is just moving from one problem to the other. Vast amounts of chemicals are often used in growing crops and vegetables. Every stage of a crop’s growth needs particular chemical sprays to kill pests. These chemicals evaporate and become part of the water, thus causing significant pollution to the environment. It is important to note that while there are numerous proven ways of reducing animal-waste runoffs, it is almost close to impossible to avoid using chemicals for crop growth, thus making vegetarianism a worse polluter of environmental water than eating meat.

Another reason is that a vegan diet does not, in fact, support the conservation of water. For instance, pork production consumes less water and energy than the production of cucumbers and eggplant. Spratt (n.p.) reports a UK study, which concluded that common vegetables consume more water during production that some meat. While the research acknowledges that a vegan diet could reduce calorie intake and solve certain health problems, the more a person indulges in it, the worse their environmental impact. Lettuce, in particular, requires copious amounts of water and energy to produce. Spratt (n.p.) also notes that “eggplant, celery and cucumbers look particularly bad when compared to pork or chicken.” The evidence directly refutes the claim that veganism conserves water for the environment. It points to the fundamental ignorance in the process of supporting such a diet while choosing to focus on the supposed end benefits selectively.

Perhaps the biggest lie is that vegetarianism reduces carbon print and greenhouse gas emissions. Spratt (n.p.) reports that “eating lettuce is over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon.” Similarly, Martindale (2017) states that "Rice -- produced on 163m hectares, around 12% of the global arable area -- has one of the greatest plant carbon footprints because it produces a lot of methane." These facts make up for just a small portion of the entire view of how vegetarianism could tremendously increase greenhouse gas emissions. Actually, researchers have proposed the adoption of a ‘flexitarian’ diet instead of the much-hyped vegan one. Wilson (n.p) opines that eating a meat portion each day (flexitarian) has a low carbon footprint compared to vegetarianism. The research that yielded these conclusions had a broader scope and confirmed that a flexitarian diet makes up for just 762.7kg of emissions, while a vegetarian one contributes to 1,265.2kg of emissions for every individual (Wilson, n.p.). This statistic would increase as the number of vegans continues to grow.

In conclusion, vegetarianism is not as good for the environment as it is touted. It equally pollutes environmental water, contributes to the consumption of more water, and could increase the carbon footprint. Animal-waste runoffs pollute water just like the chemicals used in pest control for crops. Production of lettuce consumes more water than that of chicken. Lettuce consumption is three times worse for the environment than bacon. Considering the fact that vegetarianism is a fast-growing trend, almost becoming a cult, these facts promise a bleak future for the environment. Therefore, adopting a flexitarian diet would be better.

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GradShark (2023). Vegetarianism – Is It Really Better Than Meat For Our Environment?. GradShark.

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