The benefits of veganism extend far beyond increased physical health. A vegan diet also has a far-reaching impact on animal welfare, our environment, and our fellow human beings. Each vegan has a different set of reasons for choosing the lifestyle, but we’re all helping to make our planet a much better place, whether we know it or not.

One of the most common reasons people choose to exclude meat (or all animal products) from their diets is opposing the torture of animals in slaughterhouses and factory farms. Sir Paul McCartney’s famous quote, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian,” certainly rings true. People typically avoid learning about how animals are treated and the suffering involved in getting meat onto their plates. However, once we take responsibility to become aware of what happens behind those slaughterhouse walls, many of us stop eating meat on the spot.

By boycotting industries that cause inconceivable animal suffering, it’s clear that eliminating meat, dairy, and eggs from our diets creates less harm and fosters more compassion in this world. From caged hens to overcrowded pig pens, from removing birds’ beaks and pigs’ tails without anesthesia to confined and forcibly impregnated dairy cows—choosing a diet that doesn’t support these practices is an ethical decision that allows many of us to live a life in accordance with our values.

We’re also making a positive impact on the environment by eating fewer (or no) animal products.[5], [6] Here’s a snapshot of the environmental damage you’re not supporting by being vegan.

  • Global warming: Animal agriculture generates more greenhouse gases than all transportation vehicles combined. There’s no question this industry plays a major part in global warming and the resulting destruction of our planet.

  • Pollution: Animal waste, which produces many times the tonnage of human waste, has no treatment requirements and few environmental regulations. No wonder animal waste is rated as one of the top ten sources of pollution in the world!

  • Deforestation: Animal agriculture accounts for more than 80 percent of annual world deforestation. Expanding from the United States into Central America due to high demand for beef, cattle ranching has destroyed more rainforest than any other activity in this area.

  • Loss of biodiversity: In the USA, livestock overgrazing has made extinct more plant species than any other cause. Native animals such as elk, unable to compete with cattle for available food, are disappearing quickly. Other animal species, including rattlesnakes, coyotes, and foxes, are regularly killed by ranchers in an effort to protect their herds.

This is just the beginning of the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture. Sure, eating less meat will make a difference (that is, after all, David Suzuki’s number one tip for saving our planet), but eating no meat is even more effective.

Of course, not all plant crops are created equal. Plant-based diets full of conventionally produced ingredients can also contribute to some of the above environmental problems, but perhaps not to the same degree. When in doubt, choose organic and local produce. These options are less damaging to our planet, and thus more sustainable.

Just as plant-based diets have the potential to help save our environment, they also have the potential to help other humans. Are you familiar with the following astounding statistics?

  • It takes 10 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat, and almost 1,000 liters of water to produce 1 liter of milk. A third of arable crops in North America are used as animal feed.

  • While foie gras farmers force-feed ducks through funnels to fatten them up, 60 million people per year die of starvation and related diseases.

  • In the USA, livestock consume six and a half times more grain than the entire American population consumes directly. The Iowa-based Council for Agricultural Science and Technology estimates that if all this grain were to be consumed by humans directly, “it would nourish five times as many people as it does after it is converted into meat, milk, and eggs.”