Protect our history with every bite

By Jennifer Bates

Boston, Massachusetts. St. Augustine, Florida. Jamestown, Virginia. The events that took place at these sites helped write our country’s history. But now our gluttony could erase them forever.

Our seemingly unquenchable appetite for meat, dairy foods and eggs condemns billions of sentient animals annually to miserable lives in squalid pens and jam-packed cages followed by deaths that are terrifying and painful. But it is also fundamentally altering our landscape. Widespread animal agriculture is responsible for up to 51 percent of the global greenhouse-gas emissions that are heating up the planet at an alarming rate. Warmer air means that glacial ice—and giant hunks of it—could disintegrate in just a few decades. If the West Antarctic ice sheet melts, it could raise sea levels by 12 feet or more, and if that happens, the physical record of our country’s early history along the East Coast will literally wash away.

But our relentless drive for foods made from animals will decimate more than cultural landmarks. The animal-agriculture industry fouls everything that it touches as it oozes across the planet. It churns heavy metals and other poisons into our water and spews toxins such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia into the air. It sickens and chokes human communities unfortunate enough to be in its suffocating shadow and eliminates entire species as it clear-cuts huge swaths of forest.

What will future generations think of us when they learn that they can’t explore Boston or see a glacier up close because our generation valued the pleasure of the palate over the environment and its diverse life forms? We will lose everything to our expanding waistlines—our clean water and fresh air, our healthy communities and national treasures—if we do not make a change, and soon.

Earth Day is a good time for us to make that change. Every year, more than 1 billion people participate in Earth Day activities like composting or choosing to buy locally grown produce. But what if those participants—one-seventh of all humanity—also went vegan? Billions fewer animals would be raised and slaughtered for fleeting meals, and the domino effect would be astounding. The dramatic reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions would slow the rising of oceans. Water previously channeled into factory farms would instead be used for human consumption. Oceanic dead zones—areas where little life can survive, thanks to pollutants from farm runoff—could begin to rebound, as could ecosystems damaged by rampant overfishing.

Fewer animals would also mean more crops for human consumption. As things stand now, we grow enough food for every human on the planet. But much of what we grow is diverted into feed for cows, chickens and other animals so that the populations of rich countries can eat animal flesh and eggs and drink animal milk—an inefficient system that is as unjust to the world’s poor as it is cruel to animals.

So on this Earth Day, don’t settle for small actions. Make the choice that will help preserve humanity’s past, protect its present and ensure its future: Go vegan.