- Widely held unsupported assumption based on lies of omission
- "Dominionism" including the belief that all land in sight must be conquered and "used" by humans, no matter how little that use gives us in return
The land used to grow crops for people to consume directly (vegan food) supplies more calories and protein for the global population than the almost 4-times larger area used for animal agriculture (Our World in Data). Yet there remains an allegiance to the idea of using marginal lands to graze ruminants for consumption. This doesn't hold up, because the paltry yields don't justify the negative impacts. A vegan shift would free up such land for conservation purposes.
Land use > yields
To graze farmed ruminants, staggering amounts of land is used for incredibly little return. For example, about 60% of the world's agricultural land is used for "beef," which only accounts for less than 5% of protein and 2% of calories worldwide (Union of Concerned Scientists). A portion of that land is considered marginal.
Much ecological damage occurs in the process, including the release of greenhouse gases like methane. Of grazing livestock, George Monbiot (Guardian journalist & UN Global 500 Award winner for outstanding environmental achievement) says, "The damage caused is out of all proportion to the meat produced."
So if we removed more than half of ALL agricultural land on the entire planet, which is being used JUST for "beef," we would only lose a very small amount of protein and calories from the global food supply.
Ranching proponents would likely be outraged that more than half of all agricultural land was being "wasted." But in reality, the yield of all that land was ridiculously low anyway and not worth it. We'd be better off leaving nature to do its thing on that land, allowing it to support free-living animals and rich ecosystems that include large predators (rather than mere remnants of those living systems) and are therefore truly thriving.
Can marginal land really not be used for vegan food?
To make up the small amount of protein and calories that grazing ruminants on marginal lands contribute to the global food supply, it wouldn't be hard to use some marginal lands to grow vegan crops. The idea that poor quality soils can only support animal production is a widely held yet non-supported assumption. Examples of hardy, human-edible plants that grow in difficult conditions include leafy greens, fruit, roots, buckwheat, rye, barley, quinoa, amaranth, and several leguminous plants.
What about other uses?
The rest of that land could be returned to wild habitats performing invaluable ecosystem services. The study "Grazed and Confused?" written by an international team of experts and published by Food Climate Research Network, stated, "While ‘grassfed’ animals may not be dependent on arable-based feeds, the supposition that they are using spare land that could not be used for something else is mistaken... land that is used to graze animals could potentially be used for something else – for food, for nature conservation, for forests, or for bioenergy."
Less land needed by vegan diets
The idea that land currently being used for agriculture supposedly can't be used for plant-based agriculture becomes irrelevant anyway when we acknowledge that a vegan shift would require far less land for food production.
- Research published in Climactic Change found that substituting beans for beef alone would free up 42% of US cropland.
- Per John Halley, Associate Professor of Ecology at University of Ioannina, as detailed in the book Eating Earth by Lisa Kemmerer, only 37% of the current cultivated croplands would be required if we shifted to a plant-based diet.
Esteemed biologist and National Geographic Hubbard Award winner E.O. Wilson has outlined a plan to set aside half the planet for conservation, which he says would conserve 80 to 90 percent of all species on Earth. He says this can only happen "if people eat significantly less meat and livestock products, a trend that is currently going in the opposite direction globally." Remember, animal agriculture currently occupies nearly half the global surface area, mostly for incredibly small yields that a vegan shift could put to shame.