Lifestyle changes are almost always a challenge, but few of them can be as hard as becoming vegan.
It’s a lifestyle often met with scorn and ridicule, with myths being perpetuated across the media, and in popular culture. It makes sense, the other side of the equation is fueled by multi-billion dollar industries which rely on animal products.
The two industries that rely on animal products the most are food and fashion. However, both sectors are going through mass disruption through technological development, and a pressing for social change.
Why is this change so important? Critically we’re at a juncture point where more needs to be done to protect the planet from greenhouse gasses, and the effect they are having on climate change.
Industrial farming is one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. It’s not surprising. Population growth and unchecked consumerism has increased demand for livestock over the last 30 years.
Today, 50% of our habitable land is used for agriculture. Of that just over 75% is dedicated to the farming of livestock.
While there are smaller family run farms and ranches, especially in the developing world, there are also industrial scale operations. These in particular have a massive impact on the environment. In addition to the greenhouse gasses being emitted by the animals, there is also the waste they produce, which can have significant downstream effects on the surrounding land, and water supplies. These effects aren’t invisible, and can even be seen from space.
Further down the production chain animal products are used to produce textiles and eventually the clothes we wear. Whether garments are made from leather, wool or other animal fibres, the effect is largely the same.
The materials are treated with softeners, protectants, and dyes. Many of which use harsh chemicals that further contribute to polluted land and water supplies. Importantly, the effect from these treatments is often done far from consumers, taking place overseas in developing nations. With loose environmental regulations, the people producing these textiles are often the first to feel the effects on the surrounding environment.
There are also massive effects on the health of people working with animals and their byproducts.
Industrial scale farming operations tend to not have a great record regardless of what they produce. Chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides can all contribute to soil and water contamination, but they’re much less of a disaster than industrial scale livestock operations.
During the farming process, there are several ways animal waste can affect human health.
Manure can be quite beneficial as an organic fertilizer when used for food production, but it can also be a cause of food borne illness. Pathogens like e-coli can make their way onto produce, into the supermarket and make consumers ill.
Additionally, in concentrated operations like non-pasture cattle farms, pig farms, and chicken houses the waste run-off can contaminate local ground and surface water making it dangerous for human consumption or requiring nearby residents to take extra treatment measures to ensure safety.
These concentrated operations are more prone to viruses that could spread among animals, to workers, and eventually adapt to spread among humans. This includes avian flu, swine flu, and corona viruses. As the recent pandemic has shown this can have devastating effects for people and economies.
Overseas the problem doesn’t stop. When animal products are shipped for treatment, the chemicals used can concentrate in local soils and water sources and contribute to higher rates of conditions like cancer, COPD, hormone disruption, and altered brain function. These effects are magnified amongst younger populations.
In it’s current form much of the worlds livestock production is unsustainable, and in many cases borders on dangerous. So, to are many of the industries that rely on it, especially in fashion. The reality is the fashion industry has seen explosive growth over the last couple decades, and the demand for animal products has only increased.
With more plant-based alternatives than ever, it’s also becoming easier to live a more vegan lifestyle that goes beyond the supermarket, and one has to question why we continue to use animals at all?
Synthetic leathers can be produced from more than petroleum products and can be sustainably made from cacti, pineapple leaves, cork, and fruit waste. What’s more is it can be tailored to meet specific needs of the designer in terms of durability, flexibility, and water resistance.
Likewise, fur alternatives have existed for many years, and can be made from a range of plant materials, like corn, straw, coconut oil, and even recycled denim.
These disruptions in the fashion industry are making the use of animal products obsolete, and it’s giving people more flexibility in how they can source their fashion and work it into a vegan lifestyle.
Moving away from animals and introducing more vegan choices can have a net positive impact on the environment and on the health of people around the world. It’s also becoming more imperative to begin making these changes to ensure the health of the planet itself and how it sustains humans.