If We All Become Vegans, Will We Save the Planet?
This is a great question.
When you talk to people who have taken on an eating regime that does not include any animal or animal produce, many say they have done so because they want to save the planet and our animals.
But if we all became vegan, would the planet (and its animals) be better off?
I’d like to take you on a journey that may help you decide.
I was a vegetarian for 16 years in my teenage years and into my late twenties. Back in the 1970s and 80s, I had never heard of the term vegan, only vegetarian. I ate eggs and dairy and plant foods. The only vegetarian fake meat back then was called TVP – textured vegetable protein. It was disgusting, so it never became a part of my diet. Looking back (easy to do), being a vegetarian was not the best decision for my health.
Let’s go back even further before my own dive into vegetarian eating.
The true health of humanity, and let’s face it, the true reason for us being here in simple biological terms is to pass our genetics on and perpetuate the human race. I know some of you may not agree with me, but without our ability to do this, humans, animals, insects, fish and life on planet earth would not exist.
I did anthropology in 1980 and 1981 at the University of Colorado and it was the impetus for me studying nutrition. I realised that food, cultures and traditions passed down the generations was key to survival. These cultures still exist in small pockets around the world, which give us a glimpse into our past. I learnt that when plants were not available, the animals were our food supply. They were how we survived harsh climates, disasters (drought, tsunami, ice ages) and times when there was lack of plant food (winter).
I also learnt about the vegetarian diet that had been practiced by the Hindus (living on the equator). I reasoned through culture, tradition and current food supply that as a species we could adapt to changing food availability. In all my studies of anthropology I have not heard of any culture that consumed a vegan diet for thousands of years. Nor have I heard of any tribe that lived in an extreme environment (ice caps and deserts) and was vegetarian.
Adaptation changed from hunting and gathering, to herding to agriculture. The food source all depended on survival. From the middle of the 20th century, food became a more predictable commodity. Monocultures protected by DDT, fertilisers, glyphosate and every chemical known to man started what was called the ‘green revolution’.
We now live in a very privileged time, where we can go to the grocery store and purchase anything we want 24/7. Most grocery stores stock the shelves with ultra-processed, plastic fake foods with the outskirts filled with meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables sourced and grown in dubious ways (factory farming and chemical agriculture).
The majority of the population go to these stores without any thought as to what this food is doing to their health – after all, the government wouldn’t allow anything on the shelves that was dangerous, would they? Maybe they would. We can see the folly of our non-discretion about the foods we eat by the amount of chronic disease among children, adults and the elderly. Our government guidelines are based on industry profits, not health and science.
Yes, there is an awakening to the marketing lies of the food industry’s profit-driven poisons, but it’s not enough, or maybe it is now becoming misdirected.
I was in a grocery store the other day, checking out the amount of plant-based milks, meat, chicken, sausages, eggs, butter, cheeses, yogurts, etc. For the most part, the food-like substances and so-called ingredients listed were chemical-based. The animal replacement foods were ultra-processed foods at best.
Not one food-like ingredient was in its whole form. Instead, it was an extract, isolate, concentrate, fake vitamin fortification or some weird chemical made through synthetic biology (genetic engineering of microbes) or produced by chemical reactions. And if you think that a chemical is a chemical and the body responds whether it’s fake or not, then you have been persuaded by a narrative that is dangerous.
Each one of the ingredients that make up fake animal foods that comes from a monoculture contributes to the destruction of our soils, change in ecosystems and the absolute poisoning of planet earth.
Monocultures that are farmed using multiple chemicals including the patented herbicide and antibiotic glyphosate, destroy the soil ecology, which in turn decreases soil organic matter, which stops the storage of carbon in the soil and therefore the water-holding ability of the soil dramatically decreases. This turns into waste lands and deserts, with the good-quality top soil being washed into oceans, changing the ecology of the ocean and all that live in it, and destroying the chance for future generations to grow food.
With all these chemicals being sprayed, we are killing vast amounts of vermin, insects and animal communities that live on planet earth. You can read about the sheer scale of this destruction in Matthew Evans book, On Eating Meat.
Soy, canola, cotton, sugar beet, sugar cane, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains are what these fake-animal meats, eggs and milks are partly made up of. Once these plant foods have been harvested, they are put into storage with more chemicals. These are then sent around the world to make expellers, isolates, concentrates, hydrolysates and extracts.
The chemical part of the vegan fake-animal products are made all over the world; the resources of water, land and chemical by-products ending up in waterways and eventually humans is causing untold environmental issues and human sickness.
Then once all these flavours, acidity regulators, gums, bleeding agents (leghaemoglobin), colours and so on are made in laboratories, along with the plant extracts and isolates, they must be collated by the company in whatever country that company exists to make the fake-animal products.
Therefore, air miles, ship miles, water for growing and processing, chemical waste and environmental impact all have to be accounted for when looking at the impact the vegan fake foods have on planet earth.
The marketing and advertising that compare these products to real animal products never takes what I have written about into account. I’ve written about one in particular that shares blatant lies about the egg industry, without taking its own impact on the planet and animals into account. You can read about it here. The product is Just Eggs – there is nothing ‘Just’ about it.
Then we have to consider these fake-animal products once they are consumed by humans and, now, domestic animals.
Each chemical or ingredient is tested alone, on only mammalian cells, not on our microbiome. Considering we are 10% genetically human and 90% genetically microbes and that our microbes perform 90% of the functions for our human body, I would assume that safety assessment testing (est.1987) should be updated to include the chemicals’ or ingredients’ effect on our microbiome. Note that I said that each ingredient or chemical is tested as a single ingredient. It is never tested as multiple ingredients. Most vegan-based fake meats and products are multiple, multiple chemical and part-food ingredients.
Engineering Humans to be Allergic to Meat
The latest crazy idea from Dr Matthew Liao, director of the Centre for Bioethics at New York University, is to genetically modify humans in the name of saving the earth. He believes if humans become allergic to meat via genetic modification of humans through chemical and hormonal intervention, then humans will eat less meat. I guess the narrative is to save the planet and animals and kill the humans.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a burden on the planet because I’ve found a way to be part of the solution, not part of a problem. This is how.
It’s not the cow, chicken and/or the egg…it’s the HOW!
I sympathise with everyone now saying, but what about the poor animals? I’m the first to agree that our animals have been treated without regard for their suffering. The modern animal husbandry industry should be prosecuted for crimes against our animals. You do not have to choose to eat these animals or their produce; you can choose farmers who use regenerative farming practices and who look after their animals. I may be a small-time farmer with 30 cattle and 30 chickens and lots of fruit trees and vegetable gardens, but I respect my animals and I respect my soil.
Using our cows and chickens and allowing them to live in their communities in a natural way, we have regenerated 60 acres of land cleared and sprayed with chemicals. We could never have done it without our animals – they are essential.
Our cattle are cell grazed, which means that they cannot destroy the grasses that we need to increase the land’s organic matter, which in turn holds enormous amounts of water and sequesters more and more carbon into the soil. We are part of the solution to the poisoning of planet earth. And there are many more like us around the world growing in momentum.
Regenerative farming, cell grazing, wholistic management, natural sequence farming…all are part of a revolution of farmers that want to be part of a solution, not part of the problem.
Choosing to purchase your animals and animal products from these farmers means that you are supporting farmers that support the planet. And if you chose to be a vegan, then make sure you purchase plant-based foods from these farmers. Then you will be saving the planet and making sure that animals live in the circle of life with dignity.
Animal Protein vs Plant Protein
Vitalistic principles is how I choose food and what I teach as a philosophy at The Nutrition Academy.
When I see people comparing the protein quality of animal products and plant products, they always choose to use a mechanistic approach. The comparisons are often for protein, fat, fibre, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients. It is all very well and good to see what a food’s macro and micro nutrient content is before it is consumed, but what is more important is the absorption and utilisation of these foods once we as humans consume them.
Many plant-based proteins/amino acids are incomplete, meaning they do not have the full complement of essential amino acids, therefore it’s important to understand food combining with plants to have a complete protein. The Hindus knew how to do this, by combining legumes with grains with nuts with seeds. And the cooking process, as well as the use of a ferment, was an important step to help release the nutrients.
We know that when an egg is consumed, 98% of the protein is absorbed and utilised. With meat, about 60% of the protein is absorbed and utilised. Of course, this will depend on the individual, their antecedents, and the HCL and enzymes in their stomach that break down the protein.
As for plants, the amino acids are not as well absorbed as eggs and animal protein. If there is a limiting amino acid, then utilisation is slowed. It is also important that the microbiome is acting on the plants in order to digest and release the amino acids.
So, you can see, it’s all well and good to let you know the nutrient content of the food before it is consumed, but in reality it has nothing to do with what happens when it hits our digestive tract. Both plants and animals have their reasons for being in the diet. In general, animal-based foods feed the mammalian cell of the human, and plant-based foods feed the microbiome.
Many plants are low, to no-fats, and that is seen as a plus in the comparison of plant and animal proteins. But good-quality fats from both plants and animals are healthy. It’s the refined fats we need to worry about, like generic vegetable oils.
Animal proteins are usually combined with fat-soluble vitamins and most plants have water-soluble vitamins. Many minerals in plants are bound to phytates that cannot be absorbed easily, while minerals in animals are easily utilised. Plants have nutrient components that animals do not and vice versa.
To compare these two foods before they are consumed, in short, is a moot point.
Choose Your Food Wisely
Whether it is plant foods or animal foods, now more than ever we must question where our food is coming from and the farming principles of the food growers. As much as possible we should be supporting our local community farmers. Seventy-five percent of all people are fed by farms that are 5 acres or less.
It is a privilege to be a vegan on planet earth today; there is no way our ancestors could have done this. But if you choose to be a vegan to save the planet and animals, then you must be very particular about the source of all your food. No fake meats, only plant foods grown without chemicals from farmers who care for their soil and animals.
Lastly, is a Vegan Diet Healthy?
Most, if not all, vegans must eventually turn to supplements to help support their diet. Key vitamins B12 and iron, and even complete proteins and omega 3 fatty acids, can become limited.
It’s about monitoring your health, listening to your body and seeing if you and your microbiome can adapt to an extreme diet protocol that has no long-term safety studies (generational) to prove that it is sustainable for generation after generation.
A wonderful book to read is Vegetarianism Explained by Natasha Campbell-McBride. She explains that animal-based foods, for the most part, feed the human cells, while plant-based foods, for the most part, are for the microbiome. Denying nutrition to either our cells or our microbiome is detrimental to long-term health and wellbeing.
Of course, it is your choice. My only request is that you choose ethical foods, regeneratively grown, locally sourced, from farmers who want to be part of the solution to our problems here on planet earth.