With a 600% increase within the last three years, veganism just got trendy. Gone are the days when vegans were sandal-wearing-weed-smoking hippies. Now, vegans are students, dieticians and environmentalists. I even saw a bodybuilder sporting an “eat fruit, not friends” muscle tee last Tuesday.
So, why are these people going vegan?
Maybe it’s linked to the benefits associated with plant-based diets. Dieticians and environmentalists tout vegetarian diets as healthier and more sustainable than meat-based diets. Given the advantages of vegetarianism, some have even called for government-mandated vegetarianism. Instead of supporting such an extreme order, the government should focus on subsidizing fruits and vegetables and promoting plant-based eating.
Although most recognize that driving cars and traveling on planes contribute to climate change, few consider the impact of cheeseburgers or steak. Yet, science indicates that people should be more worried about their diets than their cars.
Raising animals for human consumption accounts for between 14.5% and 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than the emissions from all forms of transportation combined. Perhaps more concerning, however, is that livestock are a large producer of methane gas, which is up to 100 times more destructive than CO₂ in raising our planet’s temperature.
It is thus illogical for our country to combat climate change without addressing the impact of our diets. The environment is a developed policy field, so the government should be creating policies and education programs to decrease meat and dairy consumption. But, it is doing the opposite.
Each year, our government spends $38 billion to subsidize meat and dairy. Fruit and vegetables receive only $14 million. These subsidies allow producers to make successful profits off meat and dairy without accounting for the products’ environmental impact. They also oppose our country’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Stopping subsidies for meat and dairy and favoring more sustainable areas like fruit and vegetable production would effectively reduce greenhouse gases. Since environmental concerns are used to justify certain policies such as promoting public transportation, why can’t they be used to alter our food industry?
The government should also subsidize plant-based foods for the health of its citizens. New studies have revealed that plant-based diets reduce one’s risks of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Also, vegetarians and vegans have lower rates of obesity than meat-eaters.
A few years ago, the World Health Organization classified processed meat as a class one carcinogen, the same category that cigarettes are placed in. Other types of meat were considered probable causes of cancer.
If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what the government has done in response to these findings. Surely the government did something, right? Wrong. The government has not launched any significant educational programs or campaigns to decrease meat consumption.
Looking forward, the government should make fruits and vegetables cheaper to promote their consumption. Many people cannot eat recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables because they are so expensive. Thus, if the government decreased subsidies on animal products and increased them for plant foods, it could promote healthier eating. In the long-term, this would be more cost effective to the government because it would reduce the cost spent treating dietary-related diseases.
The government should also support campaigns such as meatless Mondays, which call for people to abstain from meat once a week. This effort would spread awareness about the environmental and health concerns of our dietary choices.
As individuals, we have the power to make dietary choices that will benefit our planet and our health. However, most of us will need a little push from the government to make these changes.