An Inefficient Truth: Veganism Improves Your Ecological Footprint

In Australia water shortage has been a real problem in recent years, particularly in south-east Queensland where dam levels in the state’s capital dropped below 20% of capacity. The Australian continent is dry, and quite hostile to cropland and grazing pasture. Much of the food we eat is imported. The current Australian population is roughly 20 million. The land can sustain a population of 10 million eating a standard omnivorous diet, however the continent could sustain up to 30 million eating a vegan diet… Sounds strange, doesn’t it? How is such a big difference possible? A quick glance at the figures reveals the answers.

“It takes between 55,000 to 100,000 litres of water to produce just 1 kilogram of beef. Canon Hill Abattoir (just one abattoir in the country) uses 580 million litres of water per year.”
- Professor Wayne Meyer, CSIRO water expert

Amount of water required to make 1 kilogram of produce:

Potatoes 500 litres
Wheat 900 litres
Alfalfa 900 litres
Sorghum 1,100 litres
Maize 1,400 litres
Rice 1,900 litres
Soya Beans 2,000 litres
Chicken 3,500 litres
Beef 100,000 litres

[New Scientist, 01/02/1997]

  – Between 10 and 16kgs of plant food are required to make 1kg of beef.
  – 38% of the world’s grain is fed to animals.
  – 1.5 billion cattle, and 1.7 billion sheep and goats are competing for water.
  – The world’s vast cattle herds emit more climate-changing greenhouse gases than all the cars, planes, and other forms of transport put together.
[United Nations 440 page report, "Livestock's Long Shadow"]

The above collection of figures were care of Vegetarian/Vegan Society of Queensland. I’ve also been told by some well-informed friends that – since some of the above information was published – potatoes and rice, among other plant crops, require less water these days due to the implementation of more efficient farming methods. Animals, on the other hand, are still just as thirsty, and, on top of that, are still consuming a huge portion of some of the most water-intensive plant crops.

Ever since I was a kid I remember seeing stories about “drought-stricken sheep farmers” on the evening news, and, of course, the farmers are fine aside from losing money because they can’t sell “their” animals/production units on to slaughterhouses. Meanwhile the sheep are starving and dehydrating to death and suffering horribly. Interestingly, the Australian government already subsidises animal farming regularly, with or without drought – it’s just not sustainable. (&An aside: some years ago a commercial on Australian television shouted something along those lines of: “if you don’t eat lamb on Australia Day then you’re un-Australian!” Well. If being Australian means supporting environmentally destructive industries that continually inflict extreme cruelty on animals, then I’m proud to be un-Australian!… whatever that means. People are free to be vegan in Australia, if this whole “freedom” and “democracy” thing is to be taken seriously, and throwing around fascist terms like “un-Australian” is one of the most ignorant and un-Australian things that goes on in this country… But before I wander off any further on this tangent…)

“Ethical vegans” and “health vegans” are common terms – people who are vegan primarily for animal rights reasons or for primarily health reasons respectively. There’s a another category of vegans who call themselves “eco-vegans” or “environmental vegans” as a result of recent environmental studies relating to animal industry pollution… And me? I prefer prefix-free veganism! I went vegan for the well-being of animals first and foremost. But the benefits to my health are a bonus, and I’ve developed an interest in nutrition and health food since going vegan (although I still admire vegans who are committed to living off vegan junk food!). That the rich variety of tasty dishes I’ve added to my diet since going vegan are actually helping the environment as well was a great discovery, as I’m into minimising my ecological footprint since I first learnt about such things back in school. On top of all that, I’m also vegan for Buddhist/meditation-related reasons, but that’s another story entirely…

On the subject of environmental veganism, the facts show that animal agriculture takes a devastating toll on the earth and it’s a grossly inefficient way of producing food. Animal industries pollute more than all other industries combined. One of the easiest and best things – if not the best thing – an environmentalist or eco-aware person can do to reduce their impact on the planet is to reduce the demand for animal products by going vegan – veganism contributes to lowering carbon emissions, and there’s certainly a heck of a lot less water wastage.

Note: This blog will return to its regular gluten-free/vegan recipe postings shortly! I’ve been experimenting with “raw food” style recipes and planning a wedding (I’ll be gettin’ hitched later this week!), so I haven’t had much time for recipe blogging & photos. Also, I wanted to make it clear this was a vegan-based blog due to some confusion (aka daft comments!), hence the recent extra vegany explaining. We now return you to your regular tasty programming…

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  • tuimeltje

    I continue to be disturbed at people’s instistence to push and subsidise environmentally unsound animal cruelty…
    I also continue to learn more and more that makes me very, very happy to be vegan.

    Enjoy the wedding!

  • http://wheelersblacklabelveganicecream.blogspot.ca/ Wheeler’s

    Interesting. Thanks for posting! Yet another reason to “eat to live”!

  • ross@gladtobegluten-free.com

    Hi, and thanks so much for your blog. I googled looking for gluten free bread recipes and somehow ended up on your great blog. Glad I did as I have bookmarked and will return.

    We eat gluten free because of my wife’s intolerance. I have esophogitis and meat seems to upset me. Don’t know why but it seems to take me much longer to digest meat these days.

    Thanks again, and I will definately be back.

    Regards, Ross.

  • http://veganza.com/ Renee

    Hi, Ross. Thanks for your comments!

    Animal flesh is difficult to digest as the human intestines are better suited to pushing through plants. Carnivores have short, smooth intestines and highly-acidic gastric juices to break down and digest meat quickly before it rots. Herbivores have long, pocketed intestinal tracts for digesting primarily plant matter. The human intestines closely resemble herbivorous digestive system, suggesting humans are better suited to plant-based diets. Here’s a neat little chart comparing digestive systems that’s worth a gander.

    In regards to your question posted elsewhere – I haven’t had success with making gluten-free bread in our breadmaking machine, either. I find most Orgran products to be pretty useless!