A plant-based diet might help reduce carbon footprint

Global warming has exponentially increased in the past ten years. Society is evolving into becoming more environmentally friendly by recycling, composting and thrifting. However, another way to reduce your carbon footprint can be to reduce your daily meat intake. 

Gloria Sanchez, a Brownsville, Texas resident, has been a vegan for about three years but that’s not where her journey began.

“I decided to go pescatarian because I knew nothing about being vegan,” Sanchez said. “I was always under the mentality [that] I could never stop eating meat…I transitioned into vegan and it was a lot easier than I thought.” 

Historically, humans were meant to hunt and gather with the resources available to them. As humankind progressed, the hunting of animals became much more rapid and commercialized. Because of that, now massive meat and chicken farms exist where many animals are exploited and harmed during the process which can lead to moral and even health issues. 

Stephanie Giraldo, an engineer from Miami living in California, is a passionate advocate for animals and the earth. Her vegan journey started about five years ago because of her empathy towards animals. 

“Initially, I went vegan just to cause less harm to animals,” Giraldo said. “I just don’t agree with the way the animals are treated in factory farms and just in meat and dairy industries, so that is initially why, but as I learned more about the different areas of being vegan, I learned more about the environmental aspects of being vegan and how much more sustainable it is for the planet.” 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, cattle—raised for beef and milk— is responsible for about 65 percent of the livestock sector’s total gas emissions into our atmosphere. A lot of the food we consume nowadays inevitably has a carbon footprint but by eating a more plant-based diet, that footprint can be significantly reduced. 

Aside from hurting our environment, there is a gray area of moral and ethical issues that arise in factory farms. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), there are so many wrongs happening within factory farms. Animals are treated in inhumane ways like overcrowding, chipping teeth without anesthetic, breeding for fast growth, among other tragic practices.   

Therefore, people like Sanchez and Giraldo have opted out of buying and consuming animal products to try and advocate against factory farms’ practices and treatment of animals. 

“I definitely feel a lot more connected to animals and to the planet itself,” Sanchez said. “…I don’t have that guilt in me. I think that because when the animals get tortured, I am taking in that energy…I felt like I felt their pain and I didn’t want to go through that.” 

“…Choosing to live this kind of lifestyle, I feel has connected me more to animals,” Giraldo said. “I have a lot more compassion towards them. I don’t know, maybe it’s cliche, but I feel a lot more connected to animals and I don’t ever see myself going back.”  

Making the transition into a plant-based lifestyle comes with doing research and allowing that information to fuel decisions. With the rise of streaming services, documentaries on this topic have also become readily available such as “The Game Changers,” “What the Health,” “Forks Over Knives,” “Cowspiracy” and many others. 

“I was really into plant medicine,” Sanchez said. “I realized that we were eating animal products such as chicken and meat to get the nutrients that we need from the plant, so why not directly get it from the actual source.” 

Like with any controversial topic, there are many misconceptions that arise due to misinformation. Medical News Today has debunked some of these inaccurate assumptions such as vegans lack protein, you can’t build muscle on a vegan diet, dairy is necessary for strong bones, too much soy consumption causes cancer, vegans can’t replace essential vitamins that come from meat and others that are myths. 

Giraldo and Sanchez have heard all of these and more and know, from their experiences, that it is simply not true. 

Due to the vast number of options out there, Giraldo has expanded her knowledge on vegan cooking and even vegan small businesses trying to raise awareness that eating a plant-based diet does not have to be boring. 

“We don’t eat good food, and that all we eat is salad and vegetables,” Giraldo said. “That can’t be further from the truth. There’s amazing vegan food out there. It’s completely expanded you know what kind of foods that I typically cook with and going to try new restaurants and you like desserts and recipes.” 

From her experience, Sanchez knows that intaking the right amount of protein is not about needing meat but about knowing and listening to what her body needs. 

“Everyone always says like, ‘oh how do you get your protein?’ and it is actually a lot easier,” Sanchez said. “…I eat a lot of beans and I take protein shakes. I have to take care of myself… there [are] still people that are missing vitamins and are careless. It’s the same thing with being vegan, you just have to know your body and listen to it and listen to what it needs.”

In 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a study that showed a steady increase in agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions. A lot of it was linked to the rise of factory farm systems of animal production. 

According to the study, since 1990, carbon dioxide emissions increased by 16.2 percent, methane emissions by 14.4 percent and nitrous oxide emissions by 7.3 percent. They also noted that “methane is 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide is nearly 300 times as potent.”

The vegan movement has gained a lot of traction in recent years and with much information out there, it might be time to get informed and understand the environmental consequences that come from commercialized meat and chicken farms. It might not be the end all be all, but it might be a step towards reducing the speed of global warming. 

“I don’t know if being vegan is the only solution,” Giraldo said. “But I think just being more aware of where we get our food from like how that whole supply chain works and just finding better alternatives [might be beneficial].” 

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