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Plant-based eating is a phenomenon that isn't going away any time soon.
Though vegetarians and vegans in the US and across the world are still very much in the minority, these dietary choices have become more prevalent in Western countries in recent decades.
What has also increased is a general acceptance of these dietary preferences—and a lean among some populations toward more plants and less meat and dairy in everyday eating.
Many of us are aware of some of the broader reasons behind going vegetarian or vegan. But there are some specific and lesser-known reasons for transitioning to plant-based that make a damn good case for this way of eating.
Out of the millions of antibiotics produced each year, around 80% are sold for use in animal agriculture. These antibiotics are used to prevent infections in farm animals, as well as to try to increase growth rates.
Though this may sound harmless (if expensive) at first, the big issue comes with antimicrobial resistance, which the World Health Organization defines as an "increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society."
Essentially, the extremely frequent use of antibiotics on animals gives bacteria and fungi the chance to develop defense mechanisms against antimicrobials. Eventually, many bacteria and fungi become completely resistant to the antibiotics—rendering them effectively useless.
Antimicrobial resistance would be developing at a slower rate if humans didn't consume so many animals that we pump full of antibiotics.
When looking at total grain production in the world, around 40% of it goes toward feeding livestock. In terms of US grain production, approximately 70% is fed to livestock.
All this grain is essentially food to feed our food. According to David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell University, if this grain produced for livestock in the US were instead diverted to humans, it could feed 800 million people.
This raises an uncomfortable but necessary question: hy are we wasting all this food?
The further we can move away from meat and dairy-based diets, the less food and food production we'll waste—and the better equipped we'll be to combat famine and hunger around the world.
We know that meat and dairy-heavy diets can cause damage to our health. We know that the animal agriculture industry causes destruction to the environment. But what we don't acknowledge nearly enough is how these impacts in turn affect the economy.
Recent research has shown that the agriculture industry costs the economy more than it contributes to it.
One of the culprits of this detrimental effect is the healthcare cost of treating people with diseases that were caused (or at least contributed to) by high levels of meat and dairy consumption. Anything from heart disease to cancer to obesity can be brought on by dietary factors. These diseases, and others like them, cost the American economy billions of dollars each year.
Another culprit is the cost of the effects of—or the remedies for—environmental destruction. The environmental issues are not only problems in and of themselves but are also often pollution-related—ultimately contributing even further to health issues and healthcare costs.
If the environmental, economic, or animal welfare reasons aren't enough to compel you to switch to plant-based, there are ways we can benefit from veganism or vegetarianism.
A diet high in fruits and vegetables can benefit the skin. One study showed that those who ate more produce developed "glowing" skin, while those who didn't developed duller skin.
Diets high in meat and dairy lead to higher cholesterol, which in turn leads to a higher incidence of erectile dysfunction. In other words, if sustaining an erection is an important thing to you, consider switching to plant-based.
Fishing is not only destructive to the environment, ecosystems, and marine life—it's also dangerous for the fishermen themselves.
Fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. CNBC listed it as the second most dangerous job in the country. The fatal injuries rate per 100,000 workers is 77.4—three times as high as that of construction or steelworkers.
Human health and safety should be a top priority in the agriculture industry. Best to stick with foods that cause the least risk to communities and industry workers.
Many animals raised for meat or for dairy and egg production end up falling ill or injured. Often, these animals reach the point where they can no longer stand or walk. They're referred to as "downers."
These debilitated animals are frequently treated carelessly or ignored and abandoned altogether. According to the Humane Society of the United States, "Animals too sick or injured to stand or walk are often kicked, dragged with chains, prodded with electric shocks, and pushed by a bulldozer in an effort to move them to slaughter. Downed animals may be left for days without food, water, or veterinary care as they await slaughter."
Conditions in factory farms for animals are often already bad enough as it is. The treatment of "downers" is just one more awful mark against the animal agriculture industry and its practices.
The animal agriculture industry has an enormous water footprint. Estimates for the water consumption of the industry range from 34 to 76 trillion gallons annually.
In comparison to crop products, animal products do have a higher water footprint. One big reason for this is that, as mentioned before, when it comes to meat and dairy, we have to feed our food before we eat our food. This means that for every animal product we eat, we're not only using water that goes to hydrating and raising animals—we're also using the water that went to producing the grains for animal consumption.
So, while not letting the faucet run and not watering our lawns can be a good way to reduce water use, the best thing we can do might just be switching to a plant-based diet.