A Calendar for the Ages

The Second World War was the most brutal global confrontation to date. After it ended in 1945, 51 countries joined forces with the goal of maintaining international peace and security in what would become the United Nations (UN).

Since its inception, the UN has worked hard to promote social progress, better living standards and human rights around the world. In 2000 -the year many believed the “Y2K bug” would end civilization- the UN set forth the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), a global effort whose mission was to put an end to indignity and poverty.

2012 was the year many people believed the end of the world was here, all because of a misconstrued interpretation of an ancient calendar by a Central American native civilization that no longer exists. But the world did not end that year. What happed instead was more interesting. The UN replaced the Millennium Development Goals with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). This plan was much more ambitious, with 17 goals (instead of only 8 with the MDG’s). The wheels of the SDG’s continue to turn as of the moment I write this article.

No one can credibly deny (not even the populist, nationalist governments currently in power) the work the United Nations has done to alleviate hunger and poverty, even though many of these problems are far from disappearing.

Numerous articles focus on the need for amazing technological breakthroughs to address the most pressing issues mentioned in the SDG’s, such as land degradation and food security. But the fact is, many of these goals could be significantly approximated, if not fully attained, with the adoption of plant-based diets throughout the globe.

Let’s take a look at some of the goals and see why this is so.

Almost 50% of the grains grown on the entire planet are used for feeding livestock, not people.  If most people around the world switched to a plant-based diet, an additional 4 billion people could be fed, according to a study from the University of Minnesota.

Admittedly, the problem of world hunger is also structural. Corruption, bad policies, and conflict prevent people from getting an adequate amount of food. All of these issues must also be addressed. But a global shift away from meat could potentially do a great deal of help, especially when we consider how approximately 85% of grains fed to livestock throughout the world, including impoverished nations suffering from hunger, are used to produce meat for wealthy countries.

It’s no secret that red meat is among the unhealthiest options when it comes to food. But the fact that replacing all animal protein with plant-based foods can significantly improve our health is still unknown to too many people, who are wrongfully convinced eating animals is necessary.

The truth is countless studies (the ones not funded by pro-meat lobby groups) have revealed that well-balanced plant-based diets are nutritionally adequate for all stages of life. These dietary lifestyles also promote heart health and prevent numerous diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity and certain cancers. Athletes on plant-based diets have been shown to have increased endurance and muscle strength, along with lower levels of inflammation.

60% of human diseases come from animals, most of which come from livestock, and the overwhelming majority of antibiotics in the world are used for animals in the farming sector, mostly to prevent illness among them, but also to increase their growth. This is likely the leading cause of antibiotic resistance.

Animal agriculture is one of the key drivers of water pollution throughout the world. As mentioned above, the majority of veterinary medicines (growth hormones, antibiotics, vaccines, etc.) are used on livestock animals. These are also known as “agricultural pollutants” which end up in rivers and drinking water sources. Since such an enormous amount of crops are required to feed the excess of 70 billion land animals bred into existence and killed each year, the pesticides used for these crops also pollute waterways.

In the American Heartland, manure from cattle, along with fertilizers used to grow crops to feed them (plus antibiotic residue, as mentioned above) continuously run off into rivers that end up in the Gulf of Mexico, which has caused the second largest dead zone in the world, depriving marine wildlife of oxygen and virtually killing a significant part of the ocean.

Courtesy: NRDC

The industry also consumes over a third of the Earth’s freshwater, an average of 55 trillion gallons annually. This is 520 times more than hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of extracting oil and gas from the ground because of its high water footprint.

For the sake of not making this article too taxing on your eyes, your mind, and your time schedule, I will end here and follow up with another article addressing more SDG’s that could be met if enough people ditched animal products and embraced plant-based foods.  

In conclusion, humanity has survived many crises, some real, like both World Wars and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and some in our minds, like the imaginary Y2K bug of 2000 and the completely misconstrued Mayan calendar “prediction” of 2012.

But world hunger, surging levels of inequality, and most importantly, climate change, are much more complex issues that exist in the real world, far beyond the boundaries of our collective imagination. There are a number of actions we can and must take now to address these issues, which have the potential to blow up in our faces if we do nothing. Perhaps the most feasible of those actions starts with what we put on our plates.

Let’s start making the shift now, before the cataclysmal interpretation of some ancient tribal calendar becomes a reality.   

Photo by Alex Azabache on Pexels.com

Stay tuned for the second part of this article, where I will address the remaining SDG’s that can be addressed with a plant-based diet.

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Roberto Guerra

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