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What If Everyone Went Vegan?

VO: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
Vegan food and vegan lifestyles are more popular than ever, with people switching to a plant-based diet for lots of different reasons. But, not everyone is convinced that going meat-free and dairy-free is for the best. It's a debate that could run for decades, but what if everyone was on the same side? What if everyone was vegan?
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What if Everyone was Vegan?


Becoming vegan was once considered an extreme lifestyle choice, with animal products appearing to be a vital part of most societies - and the idea of giving all of them up seemed a daunting prospect. But, today, veganism is undeniably on the rise, and there’s a buzz around its benefits as much as (if not more than) its problems. It’s entered the mainstream, and it might be here to stay.

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; What if everyone was vegan?

For today’s video, we’re addressing veganism specifically, not vegetarianism. While, in an all-vegetarian society people would still be able to wear wool, eat honey, and consume dairy products for example, in a 100% vegan world these things would be generally unacceptable. The exact definition of what is and isn’t vegan can differ, but we’re applying broad parameters wherein there’s a global pledge to rid ourselves entirely of livestock - so, no farming of any kind for food, clothing, cosmetics, or anything else.

Clearly, such a change could never occur overnight. If it ever happens – and, according to some, it could be happening right now – then it’d be a slow, gradual shift as whole populations shun animal products in favour of sustainable and cruelty-free alternatives. This means that the meat and dairy industries, for instance, wouldn’t suffer a sudden collapse, but a steady decline. Regardless, no matter when the switch to veganism happened or how long it took, the people working in these industries would unfortunately lose their jobs.

Yes, there’d likely be new roles created within a vegan society that don’t even exist right now, but the change would undoubtedly hit some communities and families harder than others. At least initially, it could do more harm than good to the economy and general quality of life - though the animals themselves probably wouldn’t complain. Farmers being left without jobs would be a difficult thing to justify, especially as many aim to ensure high standards of welfare for their animals. But, it wouldn’t be the first time in human history that an entire industry has disappeared or been forced to drastically change.

Another of the most commonly cited concerns about a vegan world is what would we do with all the existing farm animals? Would they simply be released from their pens back into the wild, left to endlessly breed until we’re overrun and outnumbered by herds of free cows and swarms of feral chickens? Well, no. Not likely.

Since veganism largely comes about because of a concern for animal welfare, we could reasonably assume that the former farm animals would still be well looked after in a full-vegan society. The farming enclosures could be opened out into sanctuaries, but it’d still be important to record and monitor the creatures we share our world with - just from a greater distance, and with less interference. That said, the issue could create tension between opposing groups, with some people advocating at least a degree of animal management while others campaign for the complete removal of human intervention.

On breeding, with the current global average of 70 billion livestock animals farmed every year (but without the human need for animal products), we could actually see a reduction of animals being born. Targeted methods like artificial insemination would be a thing of the past, for example. It’s difficult to estimate what exactly would happen to population numbers if animals were no longer harvested for human consumption, but conservative figures imagine it’d take less than 20 years for an initial surplus of livestock to die off naturally. After that, we’d plateau at ordinary, sustainable levels.

It’d be a similar story for animals which aren’t bred in captivity but are hunted recreationally. Wildlife populations in many countries are actually purposefully inflated to promote hunting trips as some kind of ‘necessity’. But, it’s simply not the case that certain animals need to be routinely killed in certain seasons, or in fact need to be killed at all. In a world without recreational hunts, it’d also take little more than a generation to see population numbers settle into a pattern.

All of this said, it would inevitably be a major drain on resources to in whatever way care for 70 billion animals without profiting from them at all. The agriculture industry, as one of the biggest and most influential industries on the planet, would have to adapt. And crop development would be the future.

Veganism brings various logistical concerns about growing and farming plants, with one argument suggesting that we simply don’t have the arable land available to support the dietary needs of 7 billion plant-eaters. However, given that more than 70% of today’s agricultural land is currently used for livestock, we’d automatically have a lot more room to work with.

And, the shift would benefit the wider environment, too. A 2018 study by the University of Oxford found that veganism could reduce our carbon footprint from food by almost 75%, while Greenpeace have also estimated that up to 80% of the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest can be linked back to our current cattle farming practices. In fact, between 30 and 50% of all grain produced currently feeds animals bred to feed humans - so an all-vegan world would effectively remove the middle part of that three-part chain.

But, wait? What about extremely dry land that’s suitable for livestock farming, but not for the growing of crops? It’s another major problem, but ‘desert greening’ schemes could provide a solution. Desert greening is the human-led effort to turn barren land into usable, profitable fields. If an all-vegan world was ever to take off, then desert greening could be crucial to its success - and, again, could help ‘heal’ the environment at the same time.

Finally, let’s scale it all the way back to us as individuals. If everyone was vegan, what would that mean for our health and well-being? It is a contentious issue. While there are various studies suggesting that humans have actually adapted to live as sometime meat-eating omnivores (rather than entirely as herbivores or entirely as carnivores), there are also trends showing that regular meat-eaters don’t take in enough vitamins.

For the most part, though, the health issues are primarily linked to general dietary habits, rather than simply the choice to eat meat, or not to eat meat. It’s true that some vitamins like vitamin A, B12, and D don’t occur as often in plants as they do in animals, but you can get vitamin A from foods like kale, carrots, and watermelons; vitamin B12 is found in fortified dairy-free milk and cereal; and vitamin D is obtainable from good ol’ fashioned sunlight. Failing all of that, vitamin supplements are another possibility - on the advice of a doctor. Vegans are also reportedly at lower risk of developing conditions like heart disease or type 2 diabetes, and (at a more extreme end of the argument) a 2018 Harvard study suggested that one-third of early deaths could even be avoided if everyone switched to a plant-based diet.

If the thought of a vegan world still sends a chill down your spine, though, then fear not – because fast-moving technological advancements mean that meat might soon be available to everyone without debating the ethics of the slaughterhouse. Scientists are working to pioneer cultured or lab-grown meat, and are already able to grow real burger patties in laboratories. Not only is this excellent news for carnivorous pets like cats, who can’t survive on a meat-free diet, but also for anyone who wants a guilt-free taste of meat even if eating animals really was taken off the menu. In fact, even without a hypothetical, universal shift to veganism, it’s a safe bet you’ll be seeing lab meat on supermarket shelves within the next few decades.

So, there you have it; Animals return to the wild, our carbon footprint reduces, the environment improves, the agriculture industry is forced to adapt, and we’re all forced to re-examine our personal dietary preferences. And, that’s what would happen if everyone was vegan.
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