This past weekend we celebrated Earth Hour 2016, causing many of us to look at what changes we can make to do our bit for the planet. We all know about swapping light bulbs, shorter showers and driving less, but there's one change we can all make that has a bigger impact than anything else: what we put on our plate.
The end of 2015 marked one year since I transitioned to a vegan lifestyle, so to celebrate my first 'vegan-niversary' I want to share some information collated from various sources on what one individual being vegan for a year can achieve. Environmentally, ethically and healthfully, the benefits of a vegan lifestyle never cease to amaze me.
I became vegan primarily for environmental reasons. As a biologist, I am painfully aware of the global destruction that humans are responsible for in terms of climate change, deforestation and pollution, and I only wish that I had learnt sooner that ceasing to support animal agriculture is possibly the single most effective way to reduce this damage. Here are just some of the benefits that being vegan for one year can have for our environment:
• A plant-based diet for a year cuts your carbon footprint by 50% compared to that of an omnivore (cowspiracy.com).
• More specifically, one year as a vegan reduces your CO2 emissions by 1.5 tons (a greater impact than swapping a regular car for a hybrid vehicle, saving 1 ton per year) (themindfulword.org).
• Feeding a vegan for one year requires 1/6 of an acre of land, which is 18 times less land than that required to produce the food for a meat-eater. This means 18 times less land and forest cleared for farming (cowspiracy.com).
• A vegan diet requires 300 gallons of water per day vs. 4000 gallons per day for a meat-eater - a reduction of 1,350,500 gallons per year! (themindfulword.org).
As well as having an incredible effect on our environment, being vegan has obvious benefits for the animals raised for food. One person spares nearly 200 farmed animals by abstaining from supporting the meat, dairy, egg and fishing industries, as estimated by one 2010 report (peta.org).
However, these figures only include the animals that would have been directly consumed; they do not take into account the animals killed during the process of raising or harvesting other animals. For example, it's often quoted that for every pound of fish caught there are five pounds of other marine creatures killed and discarded as bycatch. Clearly, being vegan saves more lives than those spared in the slaughterhouse - you're also saving animals that may have been killed incidentally, or those whose habitats would have been destroyed to make way for farming land on which to raise the livestock that humans eat.
Finally, let's turn our attention to what being vegan can do for us. Whilst adopting a vegan lifestyle is a choice made out of compassion for all living beings, it is undeniable that veganism can also be extremely beneficial for ourselves in terms of our health. Here are just a few of the benefits:
• Improved digestion - plant-based diets are naturally higher in fibre, and often contain lower levels of fat that would otherwise slow down digestion.
• Lower cholesterol - only animal products contain cholesterol, so a vegan diet contains none at all. Our body is able to manufacture all of the cholesterol it needs: there's actually no recommended level of dietary cholesterol as consuming it is unnecessary.
• Lower risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and various cancers.
• Some breast and prostate cancer sufferers experience a slow down, stop, or even reverse in the growth of their tumours when they halt all consumption of dairy products in particular. See Professor Jane Plant's work on this and her book 'Your Life in Your Hands' here.
The growth of veganism
Evidently, being vegan for just one year can have some astounding and significant effects on us, the animals, and the planet. What's more, it's a growing trend - 400 million fewer animals were reportedly killed for food in 2014 than 2013, and meat consumption in America has steadily declined by 10% per capita since 2007 (foodrevolution.org). It seems that more and more of us are making the connection between what we choose to eat and the consequences of doing so.
Whether you become vegan for one week, one year, or one lifetime, I hope this article has shown that one person really can make a significant difference.
"You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make." - Jane Goodall.