Veganism and Vegetarianism: The Environmental Benefits

“By the year 2050, studies have shown that almost thirty percent of animal and plant species currently present will be in a risk for extinction”[1]. This research essay looks at the damages of the omnivore diet versus the environmental benefits of vegetarianism and veganism, through the consumption of water, use of land, and the production of greenhouse gases. The vegan and vegetarian diets do less environmental damage.

The water footprint of an omnivore is far greater than the water footprint of a vegan or vegetarian. Many environmentally friendly companies encourage people to take short showers, or to not leave the water on when brushing your teeth to reduce water usage. These are great tips to saving water usage, however in reality, only 5% of the water consumed in the United States is in private homes, whereas 55% of the water in the United States is used for animal agriculture [2]. The average American uses a whopping 88 gallons of water per day at home, however, these statistics fail to include the water used to create the food the average American eats [3]. Diet has a huge influence on your water footprint; eating animal products directly corresponds to making your water footprint considerably larger. An example of this is in a news article, where it states that it takes 1847 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef [4]. Some argue that while eating meat takes up a lot of water, growing crops takes a lot of water as well. Although this is true, “[farmed] animals eat 70 percent of the grains and cereals grown in the United States and those grains have to be watered to grow!” [5]. So, although it takes a large amount of water to grow crops, by eating meat, you are not only growing your water footprint from the water the animal consumes, but also from the plants that the animal ate.

Leading a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle greatly decreases your water footprint. A study in the European Union calculating the water footprints of various diets, concluded that a vegetarian diet improves your water footprint: “In the west, the [average water consumption] total of 3761 lcd (liters per day per person) was reduced… 41% for the vegetarian” [6]. The other sections presented similar data, with less significant percentages for the areas where they eat less meat [6]. While eating a vegetarian diet helps reduce water usage, diets abstaining from animal products further reduce water usage [6]. This is because by abstaining from only meat, you are still consuming animal products, which means there will still be animals that will add to water usage. It takes 395 gallons of water to produce 1lb. of eggs, and 665 gallons of water are required to produce 1lb. of butter [4]. This compares to tofu, which takes 302 gallons of water per pound to produce, or 34 gallons per pound of broccoli [4]. An academic study further proves the benefits of veganism on the environment, stating that the greatest contribution to footprint values of water is animal products [7].

Omnivores take up a lot more land due to their diets compared to vegetarians and even more so to vegans. Raising livestock and growing a large number of crops to feed the livestock takes up a lot of space. In fact, nearly half of the contiguous US is devoted to animal agriculture [8]. By being vegan, all the land restricted to livestock would be free to grow plants. A common argument is that meats’ value per calorie is far great than plants, making it less of an environmental impact compared to growing plants. For plants, such as broccoli, with relatively low nutritious density, this is true as you would have to eat 3 cups of broccoli to get 11.1 grams of protein compared to 3 ounces of beef which is 25 grams of protein [8]. Although this is true, vegans eat a lot more than just low nutritious dense plants such as broccoli or celery. For example, just one can of kidney beans contains 28.1 grams of protein.

By being a vegetarian or vegan, you are helping deforestation greatly. “Agriculture is estimated to be the direct driver for around 80% of deforestation worldwide” [9]. We are destroying lands with unique ecosystems and species, to set up farms with livestock. Not only are we killing the cows, chickens and other livestock animals, but we are wiping out forests and various species, purely for a traditional omnivorous diet. An academic study additionally proves the damages of consuming animal products, naming it the greatest contribution to land use [7]. By taking the small step to give up animal products, or even just meat, goes a long way in helping the global deforestation issue.

Omnivores have a far greater negative impact on the environment compared to vegans and vegetarians, partially due to the massive amount of greenhouse gases that are caused by farming meat and animal products. Animal products are the greatest factor of CO2 emissions [7], and in addition, “livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years” [2]. People argue that if we stopped eating animals, that they would still exist, hence continue to produce a lot of emissions. Animals would continue to produce natural gas emissions, however “factory farming is an industrial process in which animals and the products they generate are mass produced” [10]. By not utilizing animals for food, the total amount of livestock would quickly diminish, resulting in far fewer emissions.

One of the leading environmental problems is emissions from livestock. Around the world, over 3,000 animals die every second in slaughterhouses [12]. Every one of these animals, is raised for a period, must eat, drink, breathe, and produce waste. Raising and slaughtering animals has a negative impact on the environment;Producing a little more than 2 pounds of beef causes more greenhouse-gas emissions than driving a car for three hours and uses up more energy than leaving your house lights on for the same period of time” [13]. The UN states that a shift globally to a more vegan diet is one step to fighting climate change [13]. Many omnivores will argue that leaving out animal products out of a simply is not healthy, therefore making it not an option to combat climate change. Studies have shown this is not true, and some have gone on to say it’s actually healthier, for example, by abstaining from just meat causes a 24% lower rate of ischemic heart disease [14]. Being a vegetarian is a big step in fighting combat change, but as stated previously, there are still many animals that exist in the dairy industry, and then go on to be slaughtered, making the vegan diet a more advantageous decision in regard to the planet.

The damages to the environment due to humans is inevitable, but our food choices greatly affect the extent of the damage. The diet of an omnivore has a massive effect on the earth. For instance, in the time it took you to read this, 187 million gallons of water and 563 million pounds of food were consumed by cows alone, 60 acres of rainforest were cleared for cattle farming, and 1,080,000 animals were slaughtered around the world [15], [2], [12]. By just cutting meat out of your diet, you are contributing minimally to these statistics, moreover, cutting all animal products out, you aren’t contributing to them at all. Overall, making the transition to a vegetarian, or vegan diet will lessen negative environmental impacts by reducing water usage, land use, and greenhouse gas emissions.




[1]       “10 Critical Facts About Global Warming | Disasterium”, Disasterium. [Online]. Available: Retrieved December 1, 2017.

[2]       “Facts and Sources”, COWSPIRACY. [Online]. Available: Retrieved December 1, 2017.

[3]      “Statistics and Facts | US EPA”, US EPA. Paragraph 1 [Online]. Available: Retrieved December 1, 2017.

[4]       K. Boehrer, “This Is How Much Water It Takes To Make Your Favorite Foods”, Huff Post, Paragraph 6, 2014.

[5]       R. Curit, “How Does Eating Meat Impact Your Water Footprint?”, One Green Planet, Paragraph 6, 2017. [Online]. Available: Retrieved December 1, 2017.

[6]       A vegetarian diet can help reduce water consumption across Europe. European Union, Page 1, 2014.

[7]       Rosi and P. Mena, “Environmental impact of omnivorous, ovo-lacto-vegetarian, and vegan diet”, Scientific Reports, vol. 7, no. 1, Pages 1-6, 2017.

[8]       A. Radke, “Are Vegetable Proteins Equal To The Protein In Beef?”, BEEF, Paragraph 2, 2014.

[9]       A. Garlow, “This is How Animal Agriculture Causes Deforestation”, One Green Planet, Paragraph 7, 2014. [Online]. Available: Retrieved December 1, 2017.

[10]    “Last Chance for Animals – Factory Farming”,, 2017. Paragraph 1 [Online]. Available: Retrieved December 1, 2017.

[12]     “Animal kill counter”, Occupy for Animals!, Paragraph 6, 2017. [Online]. Available: Retrieved December 1, 2017.

[13]     “Vegetarianism and the Environment”, PETA, Pages 1-2, 2017. [Online]. Available: Retrieved December 1, 2017.

[14]     J. Norris, “Diesease Rates of Vegetarians and Vegans”, VeganHealth, 2017. Paragraph 6 [Online]. Available: Retrieved December 1, 2017.

[15]     “35 Mind-Shattering Facts Linking Factory Farming to Climate Change”, PETA, 2017. [Online]. Available: Retrieved December 1, 2017.


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