Vassar College has just wrapped up its Earth Week festivities, an annual week of events—put on by the College Committee on Sustainability, Vassar Greens, Slow Food, the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition and the Vassar Experimental Garden—aimed at discussing and raising awareness of environmental issues. One of the wonderful parts of Earth Week is the Vassar Veg Pledge, through which each year, hundreds of Vassar students take the easy action of pledging to eat vegetarian or vegan for one week. In doing so, they withdraw their support from industrial animal agriculture, which the UN describes as “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
The Vassar Veg Pledge reminds us of the importance of bringing animal agriculture into discussions concerning not just animal rights and personal health, but also what a sustainable future looks like and how we can work towards that future through our actions today. A forth-coming documentary, “COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret,” says, “there is one single industry destroying the planet more than any other. But no one wants to talk about it…” Here at Vassar, we talk about the glaring culprit that mainstream environmental organizations fail to address, and we take action through individual dietary choices and efforts at larger structural change.
Animal agriculture is understood as a leading cause of biodiversity loss, resource depletion, pollution, climate change, deforestation and desertification, and erosion. Here’s a basic explanation: The farming of animals for food requires land for growing their food and land for grazing and housing, 30 percent of the planet’s land mass, in fact. This causes 80 percent of all deforestation and also the killing of wildlife who are either perceived as threats to farmed animals or have habitats in the way of agriculture. It is also inefficient in terms of the nutrients we consume: Many of us remember from high school biology that going up a trophic level and eating animals who eat plants instead of the plants directly wastes a vast amount of energy. Imagine preparing 10 plates of rice, and only eating the last one. This is incredibly wasteful and something none of us would do. But when we eat meat, this is essentially the choice we are making. Additionally, the farming of animals produces mass amounts of waste, in the form of manure, blood and miscellaneous body parts. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the waste generated by the farming of pigs, chickens, and cattle has polluted 35,000 miles of river and contaminated ground water supplies in 17 of 22 states reporting on the subject. This tends to disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color, creating hazardous living environments or leading to displacement of already vulnerable people.
It is no wonder that vegetarian and vegan eating—made easy at Vassar by ACDC and the Retreat—is a norm for students who care about the environment. Though the official Earth Week won’t return until 2015, it is not too late to try out a weeklong Veg Pledge and reduce your dietary impact on the planet! If you’re interested in learning more about plant-based eating, you can contact me to be added to the Meatless Monday email list (of which a quarter of the student body is a part) and receive emails full of facts and cute pictures. Or, you can contact the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition about having your very own Veggie Mentor! If this all sounds a little overwhelming, the Veg Pledge is a safe place to start! We here to help you take the first steps in that journey today.
—Rocky Schwartz ’15 is a science, technology and society major.