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Vegetarian Diets and the Environment


There are a lot of reasons why people choose to live vegetarian or plant-based lifestyles. Some become vegetarian for animal cruelty concerns, others for religious reasons, and even more people choose a vegetarian diet for their health. One of the more recent popular reasons for living a plant-based lifestyle is environmental concerns. As global demand for meat and animal products continues to rise, so too is there an increase in the environmental impact. With the animal agriculture industry’s footprint on the environment growing, many are concerned about the global implications.


Environmental Impact of Animal Agriculture 

 To understand why people consider environmental concerns as a reason to make the change to a vegetarian diet, you must first understand what kind of impact animal agriculture has on the environment. Animal agriculture is a catch-all for any agriculture involving livestock, which includes both dairy and meat production. Luckily for vegetarians, there are a variety of dairy alternatives on the market!


When broken down even further, different types of livestock create various stresses on the environment. Cattle used for both dairy and meat production have the most significant effect, while poultry is generally accepted to have the least impact. Meat production contributes to environmental degradation in many ways, including: 


  • Air pollution from fossil fuel and animal methane
  • Animal waste 
  • Water contamination 
  • Consumption of land and water


 If you’ve ever driven on a highway past a cattle lot, you’ve certainly smelled that funky stench. Cattle produce quite a bit of methane! The methane produced in these lots come from cattle’s digestion, chemicals used for fertilization, and pesticides. These three methane sources contribute to climate change via the greenhouse effect. Fossil fuels used in other aspects of the meat industry also add to the impact. Another unpleasant side effect of livestock’s digestion is their waste. The amount of manure produced each year is estimated to be nearly 3 million pounds. While some of this amount is used as fertilizer, much of it is left in holding pits where it freely produces methane and is at risk of flowing into local waterways.


Water is a massive part of animal agriculture. Each animal naturally requires water for drinking, with approximately 2500 gallons of water producing one pound of beef in California. A vegetarian diet drastically cuts that water consumption, as most plant-based foods do not require nearly as much water. A vegetarian diet not only saves water but can save you money too!


Raising livestock also requires massive amounts of land to grow the animal feed as well as raise the animals themselves. This not only pollutes the land but also creates an incentive for deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. 

 Switching to a vegetarian diet is an incredibly personal decision, but environmental reasons are persuasive. If you’ve changed your diet to a vegetarian one for environmental reasons, then we applaud your selflessness!