Selfish vegans are ruining the environment?
A New York Post article and the many copycat articles it quickly spawned last month claimed so, contradicting the growing body of scientific research showing otherwise – and perhaps easing the minds of many otherwise would-be environmentalists.
Perhaps you came across one of these articles:
New York Post: Selfish vegans are ruining the environment
Excerpt: “If you’ve ever suspected nothing is more annoying than prissy, sanctimonious vegans, it turns out you have company: Nature wants to punch them in the face, too.”
Quartz: Being vegan isn’t as good for humanity as you think
Excerpt: “The moral high ground of food just shifted a little bit.”
AOL: Vegan diets are not nearly as good as you think
Excerpt: “Don't fall into the trap of thinking a vegan diet is the healthiest possible lifestyle. It turns out, the total opposite is probably true!”
PBS: Going Vegan Isn’t the Most Sustainable Option for Humanity
Excerpt: "Even partially omnivorous diets rank above veganism in terms of sustainability.”
Fox News: New study reveals vegan diet not so environmentally friendly
Excerpt: “So, despite what some vegans may tell you, their diet is not the epitome of sustainability.”
Excerpt: “Get off your moral high horse, vegans.”
If from this limited sampling, with many more like them, you would reasonably conclude this study found that veganism is bad for the environment after all, believe it or not, you’d be... dead wrong.
A closer look shows that the research was grossly oversimplified and the truth obfuscated by multiple media outlets in an insidious manner that should concern everyone, vegan or not.
To date, no major media outlet has called out this influx of context-lacking articles for the insidious smear campaign against veganism they are participating in, whether consciously or not.
Let’s take a look at how the bias of the dominant culture – a mostly invisible, unconscious bias – has been pandered to in order to maintain the status quo, so you can decide for yourself whether you’re really okay with that, regardless of your current dietary habits.
So What Did the Study Actually Find?
The study, a closed US-only model published in Elementa Science of the Anthropocene, uses very specific sets of conditions set by the researchers and didn’t look at environmental factors (!) but solely the carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land using ten different diet scenarios, first under current and then potential rationing of land types. Carrying capacity of land refers to the number of people the land can feed.
In a nutshell, the study determined that within their parameters the vegan diet actually:
Places first in land use requirements
Places fifth in carrying capacity given their current status quo of livestock-heavy land use
Would be tied for first in carrying capacity if we stopped using so much darn land for livestock
Further, if the team hadn’t placed the arbitrary and unexplained limit of only using 92% of cropland for vegan diets in their second scenario, the vegan diet would have shot to first there, too, as opposed to tying for it.
Breaking it Down
To reach these numbers, the researchers first determined the land use of their ten diet scenarios. They determined that vegan diets have the lowest and therefore best land use! (See their figure below, omitted from media coverage.)
This makes sense given a basic understanding of trophic levels: herbivores require far fewer resources to feed, since they’re eating plants directly rather than cycled through other animals first.
Replace the above buck with a bovine (or pig, chicken, etc.) within the artificial food chain humans have created, and you get the idea. Farmed herbivores require tons of land to grow all the plants they need to eat – all for people to go through the animal to get the nutrients in the plants.
As no small aside, the resources disproportionately guzzled by animal-based agriculture include food, but also fossil fuels, as seen in table two of this study from the University of Chicago Department of the Geophysical Sciences. Again, it's logical that such an extravagant undertaking requires more energy to pull off.
The very existence of feed conversion ratios (FCR), an inefficiency exclusive to animal agriculture, is also staring us in the face. The input always dwarves the output. With chicken commonly touted as the best animal meat option for the environment because it “only” requires double its weight in plants – when we could just consume plants directly or in the form of increasingly amazing plant-based "chicken" – you can see how skewed the dominant meat-biased perspective is. The most effective plant-based option, with zero FCR, is typically omitted altogether.
The researchers’ vegan-favorable land use findings also echo that of other research (available at the time of the study and also that which has come out since), including the following:
- An April 2016 study published in the journal Nature Communications called "Exploring the biophysical option space for feeding the world without deforestation" found that vegan diets have the best land use and are in fact, of all diets they compared, are the only way to feed the global population by 2050 without another tree being felled.
- Substituting beans for beef alone would free up 42% of US cropland. (Source: Research published in Climactic Change, 2017, summarized by The Atlantic)
- Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. (The most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet, published in Science, 2018, summarized by The Guardian)
Alas, the more animals a diet relies on, the more land it needs, and this is why it is often said we would need multiple planet Earths for everyone to eat meat and animal products the way Westerners do. The amount of food we can produce logically stops based on how much land is available to feed the animals we are turning into food. When we take the animals out of the mix, we free up land, and lots of it.
Hay is For Non-Vegans
Next, to get carrying capacity (the study's focus), the researchers multiplied the land use figures by the amount of "available land" each diet could use, which is where things get skewed.
As noted, all of the diets require land to grow hay to feed the animals people then feed on – except for the vegan diet.
(Yes, even pastured animals typically require various amounts of supplemental feed depending on factors like geographic location and season, and in addition to hay, much of the world’s corn, soy, and wheat crops are also fed to farmed animals.)
In the researcher’s first scenario, even if a diet had zero to less than 29% hay requirements, they nonetheless limited it to utilizing just 71% of available cropland for direct human consumption. In explanation, the researchers admitted that estimating how to use that additional 29% of land to grow crops for people was beyond their scope and represents “large shifts from the status quo,” so they just restricted those diets from being able to use that land at all – with the vegan diet taking the biggest hit as the only one not requiring any hay.
You can’t just do that!
But here is perhaps the most important sentence in the whole study: “The relative position of the vegan diet varied depending on starting assumptions regarding the proportion of cropland available for cultivation." The key words here are “starting assumptions.” In other words, under our current US land use models – which are not at all optimized for a vegan society, but rather a heavily livestock-based one – the vegan diet is outperformed by the low meat and vegetarian diets (but not the diet most people actually eat, which is more heavily livestock-based and ranked terribly!).
This missing 29% of land is categorized as either perennial or marginal, both of which vegan diets actually can make use of despite popular misconception and as detailed here by a soil scientist in her own response to this study and its media coverage. She notes the idea that poor quality soils support animals to support people more than they could support humans directly is a deeply held non-supported assumption that unfortunately many people, including those in science, unfortunately hold. Leafy greens, fruit, roots, buckwheat, rye, barley, quinoa, amaranth, and several leguminous plants and food trees are examples of hardy, human-edible plants that grow in difficult conditions.
This includes places that appear to be non-fertile sand. After all, the number one use of irrigation water in the dry and arid West is for growing field sand fields of alfalfa – used mostly as feed for dairy cows!
In “Tree Crops: A Neglected Source of Food and Forage from Marginal Lands,” by L. H. MacDaniels and Arthur S. Lieberman, it's noted that:
Although seldom discussed in relation to world food production, tree crops on rough and marginal lands have a potentially valuable role to play in supplementing traditional cereal and grain crop agriculture. Perennial tree crops, once established, offer the prospect of controlling erosion and a sustained yield of food and forage obtained without excessive mechanization. There are very large areas now producing very little that would, if properly managed, support tree crops.
But again, since a vegan shift would free up astonishing amounts of land, it's unlikely we would generally need to resort to using such land for food production at all. Using it for animal products is the least productive and most invasive use, as the paltry yields don't justify the negative impacts to native flora and fauna (nor, of course, the non-native animals being used and killed). A vegan shift would free up such land for other purposes such as conservation, forests, or bioenergy. But for the purposes of this discussion, let's assume it would be used to grow hardy plants for human consumption.
Instead, when these researchers multiplied the land use in hectares by their version of "available" hectares of land, the latter again being irrationally limited to 71% for veganism, it put the vegan diet in the middle of the pack at fifth place.
("They gamed the system!" cried out my husband, a PhD in molecular biology who patiently helped me interpret the study, upon realizing how they landed on this number.)
This, unfortunately, is the sole angle the media took and further skewed, without mentioning the unfair handicap due to the unnecessary land omission or a boatload of other nuances – including the study's entire second half with dramatically different results, which we'll get to below.
Deforestation & Reforestation
To circle back to the option for conservation, the low land use of vegan diets would be a huge ecological benefit that may eliminate the need to use marginal land for food production at all. This would allow its return to a wilderness or other native state to help preserve wildlife while the trees would mitigate climate change and drought by sequestering CO2 and boosting evapotranspiration.
In other words, in our counterproductive quest to use all possible land for food rather than just eating food that requires less land, the invaluable role of the ecosystem services provided by preserving such natural habitats flies right off our radar.
As pointed out in the book “Meat: A Benign Extravagance,” a 1976 debate held by The Ecologist was summed up by its chairman Edward Goldsmith, who was a meat-eater himself, as follows: “Abandonment of meat-eating would undoubtedly free vast areas of ecological land” for “forestry and wildlife conservation.”
This is not a small point. 80% of deforestation is currently attributed to so-called livestock systems, and a massive amount of reforestation is urgently needed ASAP. Researchers have found that 42% of the total greenhouse gas emissions reductions that could be achieved from reforestation depend on reducing pasture land.
In addition to mitigating climate change, other positive impacts of allowing former pasture lands to rewild would include the return of native flora and robust trophic cascades to mitigate our species extinction crises (driven by animal agriculture), vast improvements to the water table for drought mitigation, and much more.
Here’s the Real Kicker, Though!
In the second part of the study, which again the media coverage omitted altogether, the researchers acknowledged that land use would actually change if Americans were eating differently, so they then analyzed how the diets would perform with differing ratios of cropland types. Even though they once again limited the vegan diet’s available hectares of land, this time to 92% and not explaining why the additional 8% was unaccounted for, the vegan diet tied for first place with the vegetarian diet that includes dairy.
“Each diet, except the vegan diet, eventually reached a plateau” for carrying capacity, they explain, but “over the range observed, the vegan diet eventually surpasses all but the lacto-vegetarian diet.” The blue bars in the below chart represent their second set of findings – data Quartz could have easily made into a chart instead of or at least in addition to theirs.
As our addition in green indicates, if the researchers hadn't inexplicably restricted their vegan model from using the remaining 8% of cropland and instead allowed it to use 100% – which again, can be done but would never likely be needed – the diet rightly comes in first place for carrying capacity, just as it did for land use.
Apparently the Quartz journalist didn’t even finish reading the study, or didn’t like the second part quite as much and so just ignored it. (And this person is in charge of their food writing.) And rather than doing their own analyses, the other journalists basically used a lazy cut and paste approach.
And just like that, thousands upon thousands of people were deceived.
"Feeding More People"
Besides leaving out the study’s entire second sensitivity analysis showing what a vegan diet is actually capable of, the media coverage used sneaky language to imply that vegan diets can’t use perennial or marginal (grazing) land without ever actually saying they can’t.
The researchers did this as well, noting, “Perennial cropland requirements were zero in the vegan diet.” Also, “The vegan diet used none of the restricted [perennial] cropland.” This doesn’t say they can't, just that in their model they are not currently using it.
In reality, as covered earlier, grazing land is often quite suitable for growing human-edible crops, as wherever plants can grow for cattle to graze, plants can grow for people to eat, or again, if not needed it can be rewilded. And, of course, perennial cropland could be used to feed to people directly instead of reductively through the animals we keep breeding to fatten up and kill while millions of people starve, which should go without saying.
As Nassim Nobari of Seed the Commons points out: “Cattle were brought to the Americas with colonization; indigenous agricultural systems did not use domesticated animals. The milpa system in Mesoamerica, based on corn, beans, and squash, still exists and requires no animal inputs, nor did it ever use draft animals. This system is so efficient that before colonization, it fed what was likely the densest population on the planet at the time.”
And as noted above, a massive study has since determined that a vegan shift could reduce global farmland use by more than 75% and still feed the world. This study was done using a dataset based on almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all that is eaten.
Yet, “The vegan diet wastes available land that could otherwise be used to feed more people,” Quartz’s large bold pull quote screams!
In reality, the “wasted” land isn’t even being used to grow food in the model they’re referring to because the authors didn’t include it. You can’t waste something that’s not even being considered in the model.
And again, that whole second model that put vegan tied for first in carrying capacity conveniently wasn’t mentioned.
Ironically, the Quartz article is filed under “Do the Math.”
In reality, the vegan diet actually frees up available land now being used to reductively feed tens of billions of farmed animals instead of people. Obtusely claiming otherwise – to justify the animal-based diets that are starving the world of resources! – is particularly vile. I have personally compiled dozens and dozens of scientific and academic sources showing how a vegan shift would dramatically mitigate if not end world hunger (given, of course, proper resource allocation, which is another story). As one example of many, Stockholm International Water Institute says we must shift to 95% vegan diets by 2050 to feed the world, and even 5% animal foods would be a challenge to maintain.
Not an Environment Study
A growing consensus among scientists and others makes clear that animal agriculture – the continuous cycle of breeding, feeding, watering, transporting, slaughtering, processing, packaging, shipping, and refrigerating tens of billions of complex, sensitive individuals globally and annually – is at the heart of our environmental crises on a myriad of levels, to a decidedly absurd extent given our society’s current collective inability to acknowledge it and the often belligerent denial when confronted with it. (Just look at the comments section of any social media post or article sharing research that veganism is good for the environment, human health, animals or otherwise.)
In fact, more than 15,000 scientists have since signed off on the fact that a shift to mostly plant-based diets is an effective step to transition to sustainability in the BioScience document World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.
The Elementa study was about land use and carrying capacity, not environmental factors. After enough people pointed this out, due to their hastiness to smear veganism and put out bias-confirming clickbait, Quartz actually went back and changed the title of their article from “Being vegan isn’t as good for the environment as you think,” by switching out the word “environment” for “humanity” (still wildly misleading, plus the original title is still in the URL and a Google search for the article still shows the result "Vegan eating isn't as environmentally friendly or sustainable ...").
Unfortunately, it was too late, and the copycat journalists uncritically regurgitated the entirely false “veganism bad for environment” spin and just the fifth place ranking without its needed context, and the public ate it up.
It's been a whole decade since the United Nation report Livestock's Long Shadow made it clear: "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global." In its accompanying press release titled Livestock a Major Threat to Environment, Henning Steinfeld, Chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior author of the report, added, "Urgent action is required to remedy the situation." But sadly, the majority of people are still largely either unaware or in denial, and moving at a snail's pace or even backwards.
Meanwhile, the overwhelming body of evidence just keeps stacking up. I’ve also gathered hundreds of research studies and articles about animal agriculture’s mind-boggling impact on climate change, water scarcity, deforestation, ocean depletion, and pollution/waste, or you can read about many of them summarized in one place here or here or on our website with all citations included – and these issues represent just some of the dots we are being called to connect in perhaps humanity’s ultimate collective test.
Note that the US government didn't stop promoting smoking and start admitting it was harmful until over 7,000 studies proved so in 1964 – and just six years earlier, the majority of Americans still believed smoking didn't cause cancer – so don't wait for the government or our dominant culture to get on board.
Then there is, of course, the fact we’re violating and fatally harming other animals when we simply we don’t need to, an urgent social justice issue in and of itself.
A Vegan World Requires Forward Thinking
The media also didn’t find it convenient to account something the study called "essential to recognize": that shifts toward plant-based diets may need to be accompanied by changes in agronomic and horticultural research, extension, farm operator knowledge, infrastructure, farm and food policy, international trade and more.
What they’re saying is that a vegan world would look very different from the one we know today, in which so-called livestock systems occupy 45% of the planet and farmed animals outnumber human beings many times over, an estimated ten to one.
It brings to mind the Buckminster Fuller quote: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
Veganism does exactly this: it requires a new, better land use model that makes the existing inefficient model obsolete. Using today's antiquated model to illustrate (and dismiss) an innovative concept isn't going to work.
For example, using a more innovative, forward-thinking vegan diet model, the researchers could have factored in the use of perennial land to grow yellow peas for pea milk, a nutritious and tasty product exploding onto the market that could cancel out “dairy” cows altogether and all the highly problematic aspects of dairy production, serving as a huge improvement. (Expect to see uncritical pea milk backlash mirroring that of almond milk, full of glaring omissions and nirvana fallacies.) They also left out other promising solutions like vertical farming, indoor farming of algae, container farming, forgotten Space Age technology for producing food, etc.
But speaking of dairy…
The Magical "Dairy-Friendly Vegetarian" Scenario
Ok, bear with me because this part is important too. The diet rated #1 in carrying capacity by this study, which are those of vegetarians consuming no meat but including cow (and/or goat?) milk products, in reality are literally implausible in physical collective practice. This is because dairy production is intractably tied to meat production since it inherently results in a constant stream of both unusable and used-up animals.
The study notes (but then doesn’t account for) the fact that “the beef supply chain includes meat from animals that originate in the dairy system,” with veal being exclusive to it. Dairy farmers admit they have to maintain a certain size of each dairy herd, and cows rigged to excessively give birth and then lactate can only physically do so for so long (and the male calves will never do so at all), so animals must be slaughtered as often as new ones are bred into existence.
For these reasons, about a quarter of each dairy herd is slaughtered every year, and this “dairy beef” accounts for 18% of US veal and beef (the former being male calves, the latter being used-up mamas and the males not turned into veal). In fact, dairy cows are slaughtered so often that although they represent on average only 22 percent of all cows in the US, dairy cows have represented an average of 47 percent of total cow slaughter over the last 20 years.
So this implausible dairy-friendly vegetarian diet would either result in a population explosion of cattle that either can’t be used or have already been used up for the purposes of "dairy" (which we see in India, where they breed lots of cows for dairy but then don’t slaughter them nearly at the rate we do, although they do export them for someone else to do it), and all of these cows would need to eat food themselves, therefore requiring plenty more land than the researchers accounted for and roaming the streets in a way the US would not tolerate. Either that or they would be exported for people in other countries to eat, which would be counterproductive to the land-use benefits globally. Or they would be regularly buried in a whole lot of mass cow graves, which also couldn’t possibly be ethical let alone good for the environment.
Additionally, the researchers used zero grazing land for this model, so where would these cows live? In factory farms? Forests? And what is size of the current US dairy herd, and how much is that increased by the study’s model to feed over double the current US population?
Why make such a generous, fantastical allowance for their vegetarian model but such an illogical, unfair land restriction for their vegan model?
Of course, dairy also includes many environmental externalities admittedly not accounted for in the scope of this research and not apparently on the radar of the reporting journalists. For just a few examples, a single gallon of milk requires an estimated thousand gallons of freshwater to produce, and a farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people, and ruminants emit lots of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
A large portion of the population, especially people of color, can't even comfortably digest it. Yet as I've detailed here, the industry thrives on massive subsidizations and routine shady practices like product dumping, price fixing schemes, and bailouts.
Finally, from an ethical standpoint, dairy is human kleptoparasitism (literally, theft by parasite) of the mothers’ milk of another species, requiring the continuous rigging of her reproductive system and violation of her mothering instincts on an obscene level (and again, constant breeding and slaughter). Despite the age of information, most people continue to have an extremely simplistic or downright inaccurate understating of the dairy process, or think it's only cruel in a factory farming context – along with holding similar beliefs about eggs, which is perhaps why non-vegan vegetarianism persists. Yet even under the very best of scenarios, cruelty is built in to all forms of animal agriculture.
As dairy (and all animal foods) are not a nutritional requirement for humans by any means, its lofty health claims have been debunked by experts numerous times, and there are tons of tasty alternatives on the market that are exponentially more sustainable, insisting on lactating cows anyway is willful ecocide and exploitation.
More Important Nuances:
The study used a closed US-only model rather than today’s global context. A vegan world does involve continued transportation of food to some extent. Although, again, we've been told for years to focus on eating local, shipping food when needed is actually much better for the environment than continuing animal agriculture, as an estimated 90 percent of emissions come from food production, not transportation. This is why the New York Times gave as their #1 tip to act on climate change, “You’re better off eating vegetables from Argentina than red meat from a local farm.”
The study actually found that vegan diets can feed more than DOUBLE the current US population! Their vegan model would feed 735 million people and the US human population is roughly 324 million. (Meanwhile, the US “livestock” population is now more than 9 billion at any given moment, whom we seem to have no issue with continuously breeding and fattening up, effectively wasting massive amounts of food, as covered earlier.)
The omnivorous diet version listed in the study as feeding only 2% more people than veganism required more than THREE TIMES more land, proving how misleading this ranking is. Get that math here.
The study only looked at one version of a vegan diet vs. multiple versions of the omnivorous and vegetarian diets, yet a vegan diet that excludes livestock products can of course vary widely in ratios of the planet’s tens of thousands of edible plant species consumed (and can include foods not even considered by the researchers, with plant-based innovations coming out all the time). Accordingly, like all ways of eating, there are so many versions of a vegan diet, it makes one’s head spin. Yet it was limited to their one version.
In an extra infuriating twist, the Guardian allowed the Jimmy Smith, Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) – whose motto is "Better Living Through Livestock" – to write an article framing all this as though veganism would hurt Africans and women farmers, using the common narrative that many Africans must survive using livestock and that doing so is good for the land. In reality, this is an extremely nuanced problem with multiple causes and solutions. A meta-analysis of over 800 livestock schemes called Livestock in Poverty-Focused Development found that time and again, livestock fail to benefit the poor. And many ancient traditional, highly nutritious plant-based African food crops like teff have been replaced with grazing livestock, which has desertified much of their land and means massive amounts of resources go to farmed animals instead of people. (To illustrate this, over 40 percent of Ethiopians are considered hungry or starving while their country feeds 50 million cattle.) Yet, just as in the West, meat products as seen as raising social status and many are unwilling to let go of them even though it’s to their own detriment. Then it’s framed by Westerners as being for their survival, and we push livestock “gifts” and animal foods on them and invalidate traditional plant sources of those same nutrients.
It’s also, of course, ridiculous to justify one’s own pleasure using another’s ostensible need. Some families might need to steal just to survive, too – so should we use this as an excuse to do the same?
Vegan-friendly quotes from the study itself, which you would never guess from the headlines, include:
“Livestock production is the largest land user on Earth.”
“Reviews of life cycle assessments of livestock systems and protein products show, definitively, that land use per unit of protein is generally lower with plant than animal sources.”
“The findings of this study support the idea that dietary change towards plant-based diets has significant potential to reduce the agricultural land requirements of U.S. consumers and increase the carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural resources.”
Seeing the World Through Meat-Colored Glasses
So there you have it. If you’re not vegan, you’re probably a little indignant every time you see yet another study or article showing that the diet is great for the planet, which it is, and accordingly, you were probably kind of happy deep down to see these headlines, which were actually lies. This is confirmation bias at play, and it’s very effective for increased clicks and shares, but ineffective for spreading accurate information that's urgently needed. The authors of these pieces have violated almost every tenant of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics.
As I've shown, this particular study could have just as easily and more legitimately been reported in a myriad of other ways, with truthful headlines such as:
Vegan Diets Are Best Use of American Agricultural Land
Vegetarian & Vegan Diets Promise Best Carrying Capacity of American Agricultural Land
Study Shows America’s Popular Omnivorous Diet Wastes Land
A More Land-Efficient Plant-Based World Requires Changing the Way We Use Land
America’s Omnivorous Diet Has Terrible Land Use & Carrying Capacity
Researchers Encourage Move To Plant-based Diets for Significant Potential to Reduce Land Use
Researchers Say Plant Protein Used Less Land Than Animal Protein
Or they even could have engaged in name-calling that more accurately aligns with the research findings, such as:
• Selfish Omnivores Using Tons of Land
Yet instead all the headlines instead defied reality by slamming veganism and of course vegans, seemingly intended to embarrass them and shut down public discourse on the urgent need to move to plant-based diets.
But intelligent people won't fall for this right? Wrong. If you look at popular social media pages that posted these articles, including “SciBabe,” you’ll notice a stunning lack of critical thinking and an inability to engage with valid criticism – this from a scientist who her prides herself on doing just that! For some reason, when it comes to veganism, the critical thinking of many otherwise intelligent, analytical people goes out the window – but since the only ones who will call them out on this are the vegan minority, their objections are drowned out by the dominant non-vegan majority, if not blocked and censored altogether. She actually responded to once such excellent counterargument by saying, no better than a typical internet troll would, "I had ribs for dinner on Monday. They were delicious." She then apparently thought better of it and deleted it, but still made no attempt to refute the point.
Another typical response when confronted with vegan facts, which you’ll see in the comments section of her original post and countless ones like them, is what’s called “do-gooder derogation,” or the act of putting down those who are morally-motivated, and in the moral minority, to defuse one’s own implicit moral reproach. This is why people mock vegans, call them superior, on their high horse, holier-than-thou, humorless, or they say “found the vegan,” making it clear the vegan is not conforming or fitting in. Similar has been done historically with all social justice movements that challenge the day’s entitlements of the dominant culture.
Yet this does nothing to counter the undeniable facts raised. I can’t tell you how many times this happens to me in online forums. The goal is to shame us into silence without actually having to address the issue. Because, to paraphrase Dr. Casey Taft, we have no need to be eating or using animals (and wasting so much land and resources to do so), and the great harm we do to animals is all completely unnecessary. This is tragic. And this cannot be, has never been, and will never be effectively refuted, which is why people resort to such distractions.
See Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement:
An Alarming Pattern
Finally, it should be noted that a similar misinterpreted media frenzy with the “lettuce verses bacon” debacle occurred earlier this year, when it was inaccurately reported that bacon is better for the environment than lettuce and which people continue to constantly and falsely assert despite subsequent article corrections and retractions and even a response from the researchers themselves clearing up the confusion. They were referring to a caloric comparison, but obviously no one eats lettuce for calories. This would be like saying soda is better for the environment than water, on a caloric basis.
To quote Modern Farmer, not remotely a vegan publication, “The authors of the response seem almost horrified that the study and its press release might imply to casual consumers of science and food news that a vegetarian diet could be more harmful to the environment than a meat-based diet.”
(As an aside, this idea that vegan = lettuce is false to begin with. I don’t buy more lettuce at the grocery store than I did before I was vegan or even vegetarian, and I probably eat as much lettuce as the average omnivore.)
My point is, this kind of thing has happened before, and it will likely happen again. But you won’t fall for it next time, right?
With the goal of getting the most clicks and shares, these articles grossly oversimplify the research while omitting a growing body of undeniable scientific evidence showing that vegan diets are not only better for people, planet, and animals on a shocking amount of levels, but that we need to make this shift – and soon – for an inhabitable planet. But we have to break free of our social conditioning, see past the nonsense using fresh eyes, and change our acquired tastes, habits, and traditions. Eventually it becomes second nature, and most vegan report that although they once never thought they could go vegan, their only regret ends up not having gone vegan much sooner.
I believe in making informed choices, and I bet you do too. We can’t make those if we’re being flat-out lied to and heavily guided by hands with deeply entrenched biases and media with vested interests. This is happening on our watch and we have no planet B.
Like the disproportionately large land use of omnivorous diets, let’s not let the cyberspace use of unethical vegan-baiting articles expand any further than they already have. Please help spread the facts and counter these damaging false anti-vegan narratives.
Written by Lorelei Plotczyk, MBA w/ Environmental Management specialization, with input from Craig Tamble, PhD & Benny Malone
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