[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n November, four very unexpected words came out of my mouth: “I’m becoming a vegan.” Before then, I truly did not believe I could ever take animal products out of my diet, despite all the signs pointing towards this path. But then I watched the famed documentary Cowspiracy, and something clicked.
I could not continue eating animal products, and so from that day I began to navigate the rocky but surprisingly satisfying terrain of veganism. The hardest part of my now-limited diet has been finding food on campus; although a few menu items scattered around SFU happen to be vegan, there are very few places that focus on providing significant vegan options.
Of course, I am not advocating that all food-service providers stop using animal products, but there are a number of advantages to decreasing the dependence on animal products and further prioritizing vegan options.
First and foremost, animal agriculture puts a tremendous amount of strain on the environment. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, approximately 30 percent of the world’s surface is occupied by livestock, and this huge quantity of livestock is responsible for producing about 18 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gases, which, according to Cowspiracy, is more than is produced by all modes of transportation globally.
Additionally, due to the enormity of our livestock population and our similarly enormous appetites, according to stats from National Geographic, nearly 36 percent of crops are dedicated to feeding farm animals, while only 55 percent of the food grown around the world is going to feed people directly, many of whom are quite literally starving. On top of all this, animal agriculture is inefficient in its current form; the amount of calories that go into feeding the animals dwarfs the amount that we can actually extract from them.
Many issues are being studied when it comes to livestock production, including water pollution and land desertification.
To put this in perspective, for every 100 calories we feed to animals (sourced from grain), we only get 12 calories from chicken and three from beef, again from National Geographic. This means it takes about 7,000 calories to produce 210 calories of beef (or a three-oz. steak). Once again, this means 7,000 calories are going to feed a single animal for a few people to eat, rather than 7,000 calories of grain being distributed amongst many more people.
These are just a few of the ways animal agriculture contributes to environmental degradation and perpetuates nutritional inequality. Many more issues are being studied when it comes to livestock production, including water pollution, water usage and waste, land desertification, species extinction, and more. By making agriculture more sustainable we can potentially impact the environment and people’s lives in positive ways.
Of course, these are all issues that seem distant and somewhat not relatable to many people; not all of us care to prioritize environmental issues when considering what we are going to eat for lunch, and that is understandable. On a more personable note, vegan food is accessible to a much larger number of people. Vegan food options are not just for hard-core vegans, they’re also great for vegetarians (who may still eat dairy and eggs).
If you’re not vegan or vegetarian, vegan food is still a helpful option for those with dairy and egg allergies, two of the most common food allergies. By simply making food items and meals vegan, a number of non-vegans can still benefit from this small change.
SFU has an impressive history of activism and fighting for what is right, yet the university itself has been lagging considerably when it comes to environmental issues, such as divesting from fossil fuels. Of course, SFU has made some small but important efforts to improve its environmental impact, such as our waste separation bins. However another important step SFU should be taking is reducing the amount of animal products used to produce food served on campus.
Considering SFU’s newly released initiative to improve sustainability and student engagement, including improving student happiness and well-being, it would be fitting to diversify the selection of foods available to the many people who don’t eat animal products. And even if you are a dedicated meat-eater, I guarantee most vegan options would be just as healthy and satisfying as any other dish, if not more so.