Today, everyone knows people who live a vegetarian, or even vegan, lifestyle. In the past decade or so, we have also witnessed a growing number of our population become more environmentally conscious and turning to what they refer to as a ‘healthier way of living’. As we continue to see people alter their diets either for health reasons, the right of animals, or otherwise, questions regarding changes are beginning to circulate. If everyone were to adopt this lifestyle, what impact would an all vegetarian or vegan population have on our food chain? What about the environment? Could we keep up with the growing demand for fruits and vegetables?

The Impact of More Veggies

It’s not eating them that’s bad for you, it’s actually growing them. “Eating lettuce is over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon,” says Paul Fischbeck, one of the researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. Fischbeck and his team claim that adopting the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) current recommendations that people incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet would actually be worse for the environment than what Americans currently eat. But how could eating more of what we are constantly told is a good source of nutrition be a bad thing? According to Fischbeck, a lot of common vegetables require more resources per calorie than you would think. Eggplant, celery and cucumbers look particularly bad when compared to pork or chicken.

Environment vs. The Food Chain

How would this environmental impact hurt our food chain? If we had to use more energy to grow the food we are consuming, we could be creating more greenhouse gases. This would directly impact how animals live and thrive everyday. Keep in mind, just because humans would have adopted a plant-based diet, does not mean the same for all other animals. They would still be living off other species in the animal kingdom. Obviously we would not breed as many animals for consumption, so that would knock the animal population down by a lot and fairly quickly. By downsizing the animal population, we would be creating less of a kingdom for them, and as a result, there would be less options of other animals for them to hunt and consume. Hypothetically, the animal food chain would have changed completely, as they would be forced to adapt and we would see a new, possibly faster form of evolution for them to survive.

Overpopulation? Not So Much

We are already witnessing overpopulation of animals, and the animals that are overpopulating occupy 30~50% of Earth’s land. If we were to stop breeding and raising animals for consumption, we would actually witness a decline in animal population as a whole. Plus, if we stopped raising livestock, we would be able to grown more plants and have a cleaner environment. Raising livestock for food generates a lot of animal wastes that cause major water pollution problems and fly and odor problems for people living near animal feed lots. It also causes massive loss of rainforests for grazing land. Animal grazing also leads to trampling of native plants, soil compaction, and erosion. Eating meat is also inefficient. You can feed about ten times more people with the same amount of plants in a plant-human food chain than in a plant-animal-human food chain.

If we were to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, it most likely would not happen all at once. There is a common theory that all caged animals (ones we use for food) would be released at the same time, which has a very low probability of happening. If we were to gradually adopt this lifestyle as an entire population, we may actually see many more positive impacts than negative.