People choose vegetarianism for multiple reasons related to health, ethics, religion, etc. But did you know there are strong economic reasons to become vegetarian?
In this article we cover eight personal finance and economic reasons to go vegetarian:
Why is Being Vegetarian Good for the Economy (and How Does Eating Less Meat Help the Economy)?
Vegetarianism is beneficial for the economy for multiple reasons, besides having upsides regarding health and environmental protection (given that meat is a resource-intensive product that needs water to produce).
A recent study shows that if we continue our eating habits involving meat, the cost to the US alone will be $197 - $289 billion each year, and the figure will be $1.6 trillion globally by 2050.
Let us look at some of the major ways meat consumption negatively impacts our planet and how vegetarianism can help us out of it.
Animal Agriculture & the Environment - an Economic Perspective
There is no doubt that animal agriculture has severe impacts on our planet. Currently, almost 35% of the land on earth is being used for agriculture, around 3.5 Billion Acres. Surprisingly, 80% of that land is cultivated for animal feed, meaning 2.8 Billion acres.
Instead of using that landmass to cultivate crops that can feed the ballooning population, 50% of that product is used to feed animals. Ultimately, those animals are slaughtered for meat consumed by humans. As a result, 690 million people do not get the required nutrition.
In addition to all the other downsides, animal agriculture is also a highly inefficient affair. You need a large amount of land, water, and other resources to raise animals. Livestock and poultry consume more protein in their feeds than they give back to us.
Similarly, you need 25kg grain and 15,000 liters of water to raise 1kg beef. Water and land are scarce resources, so putting them into something not giving quality returns is economically unsustainable and inefficient.
Additionally, pigs also require excessive amounts of water to grow. For instance, if you have a farm with 80,000 pigs, it will require about 75 million gallons of water. Larger farms with a million or more pigs beat cities regarding water consumption.
As a result, our economic model is wreaking havoc on the environment. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, higher than all modes of transport combined.
Meat Consumption, Health, and the Economy
The economy is a huge structure affected by multiple factors, and the population’s health is one of them. Red meat has consistently been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes, etc., the most deadly diseases in America today.
Unsurprisingly, an ill workforce hurts the economy, not just in terms of reduced productivity but rising healthcare costs. Lost productivity and healthcare expenditures cost billions each year.
The impact of diabetes on the economy is along the same lines, as 23.4 million Americans have it. Poor lifestyle choices are responsible for diabetes, which results in an economic cost of $327 billion per annum.
Obesity is another major issue we are tackling today, with severe health and economic consequences. Milken Institute estimates that the economic impact of obesity on the American economy has surpassed $1.2 trillion, a significant chunk of America’s total GDP.
The story isn’t just limited to obesity and diabetes. The waste produced by animals used for meat consumption contains several pathogens. The excessive amounts of antibiotics used in livestock growth feed result in resistant bacteria, negatively affecting human health.
If the world switches to a vegetarian diet, the global population's health will witness a positive effect. A vegetarian diet has multiple health benefits and protects us from various diseases that meat consumption causes.
Meat Consumption, Food Security, and the Global Poor
The negative impacts of meat and animal agriculture aren't limited to just health and the environment. It hurts the global poor and is a major obstacle to equitable development worldwide.
When we grow grains for livestock, there is less food available for others on the planet. This distortion in supplies raises the prices of grains and results in nutritional deficiencies of various kinds. Ultimately, it hurts developing economies by bringing down their productivity.
Impact on Local Resources
Rich countries that have expanded their economies in recent decades have seen an increase in their demand for meat. However, some of them, like Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc., are water-scarce, making them buy large swathes of land in developing countries for livestock.
The cattle raised on foreign lands are exported to these rich countries, while the natives are left with dwindling water sources. It results in water scarcity for the poor and affects their food supplies, resulting in shrinking productivity and economic growth.
Food Security in the Future
Vegetarianism is also crucial for making world food secure in the future. We will have 9.6 billion people on this planet by 2050, an astounding number of mouths to feed. Rich countries are self-sufficient because they can import their food, which is tough for developing countries to finance.
As the population of the world rises, food security faces severe threats. Additionally, frequent crop failures due to climate change will exacerbate the problem. Hence, the developed world needs to reduce its meat consumption for more sustainable food production. It will curb climate change and provide food to the global poor, raising their living standards.
How can Vegetarianism Save Our Economy?
Meat is unsustainable, so we need a vegetarian alternative to keep the economic wheel running. For starters, reduced meat consumption means less animal agriculture. This cut in grain cultivation for animal feed will save us huge amounts of water and land. It will help water-scarce countries retain much-needed freshwater for human use.
Reduced Meat Consumption & its Economic Impact
Reducing red meat consumption and switching to vegetables and fruit can save 8 million lives and $1.5 trillion by 2050. A study shows that the US can save $700-$1000 healthcare expenditure per year and reap benefits of around $570 billion. If we cut down meat consumption as per the US dietary guidelines, we can cut 29% greenhouse emissions by 2050.
Similarly, if we transfer 10-15% of the grain currently produced from animal agriculture to human consumption, it can feed everyone. In addition to that, a 50% reduction in meat consumption in the developed world can save 3.6 million children from malnourishment. If malnourishment goes down, economic productivity automatically goes up significantly.
Another study estimates that cutting meat consumption, especially beef, will provide us with nearly a $20 trillion cushion to fight climate change. As a result, only a fraction of that land will be used for growing vegetation for human consumption.
As some of the farmland is left unused, vegetation will carry on its path and turn those lands into thriving green spaces. It will help cut down methane emissions, reducing the need for other, more expensive techniques such as "clean" coal power plants and carbon capture.
Reduced Meat Consumption & its Economic Impact
Switching to a vegetarian diet will also help farmers, the backbone of our food supply chain. Growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, etc., is still labor-intensive despite automation and can create thousands of farming jobs.
However, energizing vegetarian farming is much more than just creating jobs. If we cut down on meat consumption, we need far less land to grow food for our population, meaning farming with fewer chemicals.
It helps preserve the natural quality of soil, which captures carbon four times the amount captured by trees.
Can I Save Money by Being Vegetarian? How?
Vegetarianism isn't just beneficial for the overall economy, but it also has immense personal finance advantages. A vegetarian diet can save you a lot of money if you play your cards right. For instance, reducing meat consumption can save you almost $700 per year. In fact, a family saved $2800 in 6 months by going vegetarian — enough for a two week trip to Greece.
Let us see how you can boost your finances by going vegetarian.
Focus on Staples
To save money being vegetarian, you must focus on some staple foods, including brown rice, quinoa, legumes, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, etc. These foods should establish the foundation of your overall diet.
Most of these foods are relatively cheaper, and you can cut costs even further by buying them in bulk. However, nuts can be a bit pricey, but the overall affordability covers this discrepancy.
Buy Prepared Foods
Many think going vegetarian means preparing every food from scratch, which is untrue. You can still buy prepared food with a little care. If you find meat alternatives too expensive for you, traditional vegetarian options are always available.
For instance, instead of buying the trendy burgers made of meat alternatives, get the old-fashioned bean & veggie burger that costs much less. Ensure the burger you buy has enough protein to fulfill your daily intake.
Go with the Seasons
Buying vegetables and fruits in seasons cuts your costs significantly. You can visit the farmer market yourself and buy directly from them. It helps you develop a friendly relationship with the farmers, always getting high-quality produce.
In addition to that, save on extra costs by not throwing away wilted vegetables. If you are a little creative, you can make soups and broths out of them that taste delicious.
Eat Frozen Foods
Eating fresh isn't a necessity if you go vegetarian. Many people associate vegetarianism with fresh food, and there is some truth. However, many vegetarians try to freeze their peas, broccoli, green beans, etc., for later use since it’s super convenient.
Less Expensive Protein
Going vegetarian means you are not spending as much on protein. Meat is one of the most expensive sources of protein pound-by-pound. Therefore, you can switch meat for vegetarian protein alternatives such as beans, nuts, peas, etc., to ensure you are taking enough protein without spending a ton.
Due to the budding vegetarian food market, alternative animal protein costs are high. Therefore, you don't have to go for meaty substitutes. Instead, you can look for other foods that provide you protein instead of being fancy meat substitutes.
Red meat is one of the biggest culprits for causing cardiovascular problems, diabetes, etc. As a result, meat-eaters have to spend a lot on their healthcare if and when they suffer from health problems.
As a vegetarian, you can evade all of these costs entirely by adopting a meatless diet. Vegetarians do not eat as many calories as meat-eaters, so their chances of being overweight are reduced sharply. Eating 500 fewer calories than meat-eaters amounts to 45 minutes of exercise.
Better Energy Levels, Better Productivity
Vegetarians have higher energy levels than meat-eaters, which allows them to be more productive during the day. It leads to more promotions and a better work ethic overall. Additionally, it can reduce stress levels and ensure better relationships at work and home.
Cook Yourself Whenever Possible
One of the best ways of saving money on your vegetarian diet is by dining out less and less and cooking for yourself often. If you do not know how to cook, learning it will go a long way in helping you become a financially-savvy vegetarian.
You can scour the internet for a different take on your favorite vegetarian recipes and learn new ones. Preparing your meals will also improve your health because you will be eating the ingredients you want without any additives.
Saving our planet needs individual and collective efforts. Our agricultural and dietary practices need a significant shift if we intend to curb greenhouse emissions. Vegetarianism is an excellent solution to the problem of climate change, as it is beneficial for the economy on a large scale and an individual level.
The demand for food is not going anywhere. In fact, it will only increase in the future as our population rises further. If we do not act now, it might be too late for our planet.