Why a plant-based diet is the most socially equitable form of environmental activism.

It is no secret that animal agriculture wreaks havoc on the environment. From water and land pollution, to excessive use of these and other resources (fossil fuels, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, farm subsidies, etc.), and climate change, there can be no doubt that addressing animal agriculture’s impact needs to be a part of any environmental conservation effort.

However, some might argue that there are ways to breed animals for slaughter that are sustainable or that focusing on technological solutions like renewable energy should be a higher priority.

These assertions are misguided and discriminatory, especially if we want to reach out to people of all socio-economic statuses.

Buying so-called sustainable and ethical animal products where animals have full autonomy over their very short lives (compared to their respective species’ natural lifespan), eat only foods that they would eat in the wild and happily throw themselves on the butcher’s knife is not cheap.

Not when compared to the factory-farmed animal products (which makes up over 90% of U.S. animal foods production) that are so readily and cheaply available.

The dominance of factory farming also means that practically no consumer of animal foods exclusively eats only the sustainable and ethical kind. Think of all the processed and packaged foods that have animal ingredients, or eating at a friend’s and family’s place, or a restaurants or office parties. One or more animal ingredients most certainly is a product of factory farming.

If the environmentalist solution is to eat fewer animal products and only which that they deem sustainable, they will only drive up the cost of animal products further. This means that fewer people will be able to participate in the environmental efforts (as relating to environmental impact of food choices) to restore our planet to a healthier state.

I doubt many, if any, environmentalists would support the idea of having different classes of people; those who can afford animal products and those who can’t.

In addition, people who have to work two, sometimes three jobs just to put food on the table, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads don’t always have the luxury of buying into solutions like electric cars, solar roofs, and even things that may seem trivial to the rest of us, like LED lightbulbs and low flow toilets and showerheads. They may live in housing situations where they may not even have control over these things.

If they are working multiple jobs and have a family, they may even have not enough free time to participate in protests or petition government representatives.

While they may have a vested interest in a better environment for themselves, their families and their progeny, when a person of limited means sees environmental organizations only promoting solutions and products they cannot afford, they may feel ostracized by the environmental movement. Why would they support a cause that appears to explicitly exclude them?

Everyone has to eat.

By adopting plant-based foods exclusively, we can start to reverse the damage done to our planet by animal agriculture and include more people in its restoration. It is something anyone and everyone can do.

Animal products, even those higher-priced “sustainable” ones rely heavily on subsidies to remain viable.

Instead of subsidizing animal foods that cause environmental degradation and worsen our climate problems, we could do so much better by supporting farmers to grow foods that are healthy for the planet as well as people.

Environmentalists have a huge opportunity to set an example for others to follow and create a demand and abundance of affordable, healthy plant foods by shifting their own food choices to plant-based foods.

This shift is imperative, now more than ever as developing nations are becoming wealthier and emulating a more western lifestyle, which includes the consumption of more animal products. They may not care that their meat, dairy and eggs do not come from sustainable and ethical sources, so long as they can get it in abundance like we have.

Just as many developing nations leap-frogged us from having no phones to almost everyone having a mobile phone, they could leap-frog our destructive animal farming practices but only if we show them we prefer healthier, more sustainable plant foods.

It may not be easy for everyone to make the switch overnight but start somewhere and move to incorporate more plant foods over animal foods with time.

In a world with diminishing resources and a growing population (farmed animal population in the world beats human population by a factor of 10!), it is not enough to say that we should only reduce our consumption of animal foods, which, as I’ve already pointed out, is inequitable. No environmental organization supports only the reduction of fossil fuels.

An environmentalist who says this cannot be done is making the same fallacy as a Hummer driver who says the world cannot give up using fossil fuels. Just because one, personally cannot give up animal products or driving gas guzzlers, they think not everyone else will.

We only need to achieve critical mass, about 10% of the population, before exclusive plant-based eating becomes widely accepted as the norm. Surely, the percentage of environmentalists (even excluding those who are only in it for socializing and feeling discriminatorily superior) in the U.S. is greater than ten.

Some of the things I’ve said above may be hard to swallow. Perhaps I could be more diplomatic, but it is hard to be tactful in the face of clear and present danger that we could very well not have a habitable planet by the end of the century. I may not be around but people I love and care about will.

We should be doing everything in our power to avert the worst effects of climate change and switching exclusively to plant-based foods is something in which everyone, regardless of income and social status, can participate. Will you?

Hally DeCarion (not verified)
Thank you for this article

Thank you for this article. I have eaten a plant based diet in the past. I have gone for as long as 12 years. Lately, I have eaten some meat. That is over the past year this happened. Partly, I was having digestive issues and developed an intolerance to gluten and later removed grains from my diet. I have experimented with several things but wasn't able to seem to get things right. I have chronic fatigue syndrome and a couple of serious illnesses. Yesterday, I wrote to consult with a plant based nutritionist I will certainly try again. I know when things go well on a plant based diet it is better for our health and for the planet.

Dear Hally, thanks for your

Dear Hally, thanks for your comments. I, myself, had a couple of false starts towards going vegan. I am so happy to hear that you will be trying again. It can be done! I'm sure the plant-based nutritionist will have great suggestions. All the best and feel free to reach out to via the contact page if you have questions.

Fallopia Tuba (not verified)
I absolutely agree with

I absolutely agree with everything you've said; as a 16-year vegan, I've found it frustrating to watch people chowing down on meat products, saying between mouthfuls, "But it's so damn good!" Few people think of the damage animal products inflict on the planet—not to mention human health—when they're taking their pleasure in "comfort foods."

In the above essay, you throw around the word "environmentalist," but consider that there are no meat-eating environmentalists.

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