Did you know that on October 1 the planet celebrated World Vegetarian Day? Did you know that Germany is the world’s leading producer of vegan food products? Did you know that Argentina’s presidential palace only serves vegetarian and vegan food on Mondays, which affects the over 500 employees of the palace, including President Mauricio Macri? You’ve probably noticed that, over the past decade, the dietary movements of vegetarianism and veganism have been steadily pushing their way into the mainstream. Of late, we’ve even witnessed governments and state-run facilities create rules about providing meat-free options and even advocating for options like “Meatless Mondays” at food-serving institutions.
While the choice to refrain from or restrict intake of meat in one’s diet has been referred to as a “trend” or “fad,” the repercussions of such dietary decisions are far and wide. First and foremost, many object to the eating of animals on a moral and ethical basis. But the reasons to pass on animal products in your food are so much more varied and complicated than that. As more and more people throughout the planet are able to afford meat – and lots of it – in their diets, rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other related illnesses are skyrocketing. Argentina, the world’s second largest consumer of beef per capita, also has the highest rate of obesity in boys, and the third-highest in girls throughout South America (*1). Consequently, the nation’s government is instituting rules like “Meatless Mondays” for all Casa Rosada (presidential palace) employees in an effort to emphasize the importance of a balanced diet that isn’t meat-dependent.
In addition to the health benefits of a meat-less or low-meat diet – such as a reduction in the risk of cancer and heart failure (*2) – there are more far-reaching impacts. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the production of meat and dairy products “accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions” (*3). In South America, where Argentina alone houses over 5% of the world’s cattle, the area required for agriculture is rapidly and devastatingly encroaching on one of the world’s most important resources: 90% of deforestation in the Brazilian portion of the Amazon Rainforest is due to the creation of cattle pastures (*1). Further, one of the most damaging consequences of cattle-raising is the creation of methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas. As the world’s population grows, so does global meat consumption. During this global push to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the United Nations has recommended that everyone on the planet aim to emit meat from their diets at least one day a week (*3).
Whatever your personal stance on the matter, the move towards more conscientious, plant-based diets is clearly more than just a trend. As the battle for the planet’s natural resources continues, it makes moral, ethical, and logical sense that we move away from such water- and land-intensive practices as meat and dairy farming. If we value resources like tropical rainforests, and the peoples and unique lifeforms within, there is a clear need for us to move away from meat consumption at current levels. So, go ahead, get creative with your next meal. Pass on the bacon and load up on the fruit and veggies. You’re making a statement with your stomach, and the good news is that taking a stand will not only make a tangible difference to the planet, but it’ll also leave you happier and healthier than ever!