By Rebecca Libauskas
Do you feel your anxiety rising as the planet heats up? As someone who researches climate science, I can confirm that eco-anxiety is not a gimmick — it’s real! A recent American Psychiatric Association survey revealed that 67% of Americans are experiencing some degree of anxiety due to the climate catastrophe. And more than half of the respondents worried about the climate crisis’s impact on their mental well-being. So, for Mental Health Awareness Month (May), let’s be proactive — and go vegan.
Since I became conscious of my environmental impact, I recycle, buy secondhand clothes and reduce plastics in my family’s home.
But eating vegan helps my eco-anxiety the most. According to a study by the University of Oxford, going vegan is the “single biggest way” to reduce your environmental impact. Researchers found that ditching meat and dairy could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%.
When we are proactive in our role in the climate catastrophe, we can better confront the stress of frightening climate change–related events like raging wildfires, food insecurity and house-destroying storms. It’s empowering. And sharing vegan food with my family has amplified our collective impact.
As a mother, I know my children need tools to cope with the state of the planet. In a 2021 global survey of thousands of young people, many reported feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, helplessness or guilt concerning climate change. I upgraded from dairy to almond milk and from chicken nuggets to vegan nuggets. Not only are these swaps environmentally friendly, they’re also affordable, delicious, healthy and easy. Making these changes was an excellent way to introduce my children to the tasty world of vegan eating and inspire them to confront the climate catastrophe. Each person’s actions count.
According to a report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture accounts for about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Animal agriculture is also responsible for deforestation, as land is cleared to create grazing areas and grow animal feed. And animal waste from farms can contaminate nearby water sources, leading to serious water pollution. Switching to vegan foods can help reduce the demand for animal-based foods — which in turn can decrease the negative impact of animal agriculture on the environment. And my spirit has never felt lighter, knowing that no one had to die for my meal.
Meat, eggs and dairy come from misery and pain inflicted on animals. These animals are forced to endure alarming mistreatment, from the claustrophobic confines of tiny stalls to the agony of mutilations without painkillers. By going vegan, we refuse to bankroll their suffering and we reap the benefits to our mental health.
One study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found that vegan eating may be associated with lower anxiety and stress levels. And a study from the University of Warwick in England shows that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables — up to eight portions a day — are substantially happier than people who do not. So with the vegan lunch I just ate, I reduced my environmental impact and contributed to my happiness. It’s that easy!
It’s no surprise that so many of us feel eco-anxiety: We switch on the news or open a newspaper and see a world ravaged by the climate catastrophe. But we have the power to effect change. By embracing vegan living, we take a stand against cruelty to animals and tangibly contribute to the conservation of the planet. So let’s change the world, one meal at a time, and pave the way for our children. This Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s be the change we wish to see.