Healing Our World, Healing Ourselves by Karen Fiorito

Plant-based diets have many health benefits. Studies show that vegans have a reduced risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease[1]. Choosing a plant-based diet and reducing the consumption of animal products is not only good for one’s health but it may also be the solution to many of the world’s environmental and social problems.

Let’s take for example the drought in California. California is suffering from an historic drought, exacerbated by climate change; meanwhile the state produces nearly half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. Agriculture accounts for 90% of California’s total water usage[2], including alfalfa, the crop that uses the most water, and is used to feed farmed animals. Why all the hay? California is the nation’s top dairy producer and 4th largest US beef producer. The meat and dairy industries alone account for 47% of California’s consumptive use of water[2], which means water that has been extracted and cannot be replaced.

The environmental footprint left by factory farming from water use is part of the reason the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has recommended that Americans eat less resource-intensive meat and more plant-based foods for the sake of their health and that of the environment[3]. Animal agriculture not only accounts for 55% percent of US water consumption[4], but livestock occupies 45% of the Earth’s total land[5] and causes 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation[6].

In addition, the prevalent use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers in the production of feed crops poisons waterways and causes ocean dead zones[7]. Converting land for growing feed crops and animal grazing causes monumental habitat destruction through the clearing of forests (91% of all Amazon destruction is contributed to animal agriculture.) This has led to a massive rise in species extinction, water pollution and climate change[8].

With much of the world suffering from drought and the impacts of climate change on the rise, one of the most efficient tools one has to achieve environmental sustainability is adapting a plant-based diet. A vegan produces 50% less carbon dioxide and uses 1/11th the oil, 1/13th the water, and 1/18th the land of a meat-eater[9]. Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds of CO2 and one animal’s life[10].

Here’s another reason to switch to a plant-based diet: world hunger. Did you know that 82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals that are then killed and eaten by wealthier individuals in more developed countries? Did you know that globally, even with climate change, we are producing enough grain to feed twice as many people as there are in the world? Yet, in 2011, with a record harvest of grain globally of over 2.5 billion tons, half of that went to feed animals in the meat and dairy industries. In fact, 70% of all coarse grains and over 90% of all soy grown in the world goes to feed livestock[11].

By reducing our consumption of animal products and eating a plant-based diet, we can improve our health and the health of the planet and help maintain a sustainable future for all.

Karen Fiorito is a vegan artist, activist and curator living in Santa Monica, CA. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in over 100 exhibitions and featured in major publications such as Art in America, the Huffington Post, the LA Weekly, and URB Magazine.

1. Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts, Lap Tai Le and Joan Sabaté, Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health, Loma Linda University, CA 92350

2. California’s Water Footprint, Julian Fulton, Heather Cooley and Peter H. Gleick, Pacific Institute, December 2012

3. Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (Advisory Report) to the Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA)

4. “More and Cleaner Water.” Six Arguments for a Greener Diet: How a More Plant-based Diet Could save Your Health and the Environment, Michael F. Jacobson, Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2006.

5. “Livestock and Climate Change.” Thornton, Phillip, Mario Herrero, and Polly Ericksen. Livestock Exchange, no. 3 (2011). IPCC AR5 WG# Chapter 11, Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Us (AFOLU)

6. Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. Food and
Agriculture Organization, Henning Steinfeld. 2006. ISBN 92-5-105571-8. http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM

7. Scientific America, “What Causes Ocean “Dead Zones”?” September 25, 2012. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ocean-dead-zones/

“What’s the Problem?” United States Environmental Protection Agency.

8. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. Richard A. Oppenlander, Minneapolis, MN : Langdon Street, 2013.

Comfortably Unaware, Global Depletion and Food Choice Responsibility, Richard A. Oppenlander

How Eating Meat Hurts Wildlife and the Planet, Center for Biological Diversity http://www.takeextinctionoffyourplate.com/meat_and_wildlife.html

9. CO2: “The Carbon Footprint of 5 Diets Compared.” Shrink The Footprint.

“Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK.” Climactic Change, 2014.

Oil, water: “Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003.

One Green Planet, “Meat The Truth”.

Robbins, John. “Food Revolution”. Conari Press, 2001

Land [xvii]: “Our food our future.” Earthsave.

10. “Water Footprint Assessment.” University of Twente, the Netherlands.

“Measuring the daily destruction of the world’s rainforests.” Scientific American, 2009.

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