What if...the world decided to be vegan?

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What if...the world decided to be vegan?

Vanessa Baird dreams on. Or maybe not?


A billboard campaign by Californian artist Karen Firito, offered passers-by some interesting choices.

They could help to save 1,300 gallons (4,921 litres) of water in California with all of its droughts by: not flushing the toilet for six months; or not showering for three months; or not eating just one burger today.

Yes, that’s it. One beef burger!

The online campaign shows a pound (450 grams) of potatoes uses about 24 gallons (90 litres) of water to produce, bread 193 gallons (730 litres) – and beef a big 5,214 (19,737 litres). All animal products rank high – cheese is 896 (3,391 litres)

But suppose we all, the whole world, changed to a vegan diet? What would happen?

In 2016 Marco Springmann looked at the figures at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food. He found that if the world suddenly changed to a vegan diet in the year 2050, in that single year we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds.

But a 2019 correction to research published in Science by Joseph Poore and T Temecek has a lower figure. It shows that not using animal products gives a 28-per-cent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions in all parts of the economy (compared to 2010 emissions). Still good, but not nearly as good.

Researchers have looked at other global benefits of veganism. A generally healthier diet could save five million lives a year, a vegetarian diet seven million. But a vegan diet would save eight million deaths from chronic diseases, says Springmann.

A vegan future would also give space and resources for growing food. Research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that a meat-eater’s diet needs 17 times more land, 14 times more water, and 10 times more energy than a vegetarian’s. This is mainly because we use 68 per cent of the world’s agricultural land for growing food for animals. Harvard Professor of Medicine Walt Willett says we could stop most world hunger today with about 40 million tonnes of food. But we feed 760 million tonnes to farm animals every year.

With world population rising from 7.5 billion to 10.5 billion by 2050, we would need more resources. But, as writer and environmentalist Paul Allen says, there is another, more political problem. He writes in BBC Good Food.

‘Right now, we already produce more than 1.5 times the amount of food we need for everyone on the planet. It just doesn’t get to everyone in need. In other words, having enough to eat is as much about politics and big business as dietary choices,’

And the global meat and dairy industries give work to millions of people, often in poor communities around the world.

And the animals? What would happen to all the animals we have for humans to eat? Would cows take over the world? Would we kill them? Or take them to safe places? Would they return to the wild? Some farm animals like broiler chickens, would not survive in the wild. Others, like sheep or pigs, would do better.

There has been a big increase in veganism – or at least consumption of vegan products – in recent years. But the change to vegan food won’t happen quickly and so farmers can breed fewer animals as the demand falls.

What happens in Asia with its big populations will have a real impact. Because of the need to take action on climate change, rising obesity, and diabetes, in 2016 the Chinese government gave new guidelines to get the nation’s 1.3 billion people to reduce their meat consumption by 50 per cent by 2030.

So maybe the idea of a vegan world by 2050 is possible…



(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)