Environmental History: Rise of the vegetarians

vegetarian diet and climate change के लिए चित्र परिणाम

For a while now, scientists have been professing a switch to a vegetarian diet to counter the impacts of climate change. On March 26, 2016, there was an article on TIME magazine as well, about this. According to that article, livestock contributes more than 14% of greenhouse emission, and this figure could grow to 50% by 2050, with growing population and the need for more food.

This call for a vegan diet, however, is not recent at all.

The earliest call to switch to a vegan diet can be dated back to 740 B.C, when Isaiah, a Hebrew prophet, called for a switch to diet to prevent animal sacrifice. Similarly, Buddhism and Jainism grew in India between 000-500 B.C, and both faiths proposed a vegan diet to prevent cruelty against animals. Jainism went so far as to state that it is not enough to live and let live, we have to also protect the other living.

The great King Ashoka, after his switch to Buddhism, released the 7 pillars edicts, one of which called for the protection and conservation of many animals like deer, bull, and parrots. Even in Greece, Pythagoras (born 380 B.C) and Plutarch (born 46 C.E) both advocated a vegetarian diet. In fact, the ideologies of Plutarch in his book “On Eating Animal Flesh” was the basis on which the 19th-century American vegetarianism emerged.

While all of these developments were aimed at protecting animals, it did play a role in the conservation of biodiversity of the region. For example, the renowned conservationist Valmik Thapar described the Bishnoi culture of environmental protection as the primary reason that desert wildlife still exists on the subcontinent.


Today, it’s not so much as wildlife conservation but life conservation which is the reason for the call for a change in diet. The growth of animals for food has been a major cause not just for global warming but also severe environmental degradation in the form of overgrazing. It’s not just meat; certain other “vegetarian” foods are also known to be extremely harmful to the environment.

A study conducted by Stockholm University found that the greenhouse gas emissions of pork production were 9 times more than dry peas, and rice produced 38 times more greenhouse gas than potatoes (the stats include everything from growing plants/animals to transportation to storage to finally ending up in your stomach).

Methane is the 2nd most dangerous GHG after carbon dioxide. It is produced when organic materials are decomposed in the stomach of ruminating animals like cows and buffaloes. The release of methane during rice production happens when rice fields are kept under water for long periods of time. If you think about the sheer amount of animals and rice being grown just to feed people, you can imagine how much of methane is being released into the atmosphere.

field of cattle के लिए चित्र परिणाम

The studies have concluded that plant products like vegetables, cereals, and legumes have a comparatively low GHG emissions as compared to rice and meat products. Fowl meat and eggs meanwhile were considered environment-friendly.

While the choice of diet is completely personal, it makes sense to step back and take a larger look at things. A smarter, environment-friendly diet could go a long way in reducing human impact on the environment. I’m not just talking about climate change; smaller yet equally dangerous problems like overgrazing and deforestation are aided by the need to support the popular diet of the world today. It could all reduce by a simple choice you make.

So, choose wisely.

Feature image courtesy – priceonomics.com



  1. http://www.environmentalhistory.org- Environmental History Timeline.
  2. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama; Climate change and dietary choices —
    how can emissions of greenhouse gasses from food consumption be reduced?; Food Policy, 1998.
  3. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama and Alejandro D González; Potential contributions of food consumption patterns to climate change; American Society of Nutrition 2009
  4. http://time.com/4266874/vegetarian-diet-climate-change/

11 thoughts on “Environmental History: Rise of the vegetarians

  1. Lots of good information here Saurab. I didn’t know about the very long history, and that the ideologies of Plutarch in his book “On Eating Animal Flesh” was the basis on which the 19th-century American vegetarianism emerged. That is very interesting indeed.

    I do wonder, though, about your statement that eating chicken is considered environmentally benign. Here in the USA, there is much pollution caused by chicken farms. Chicken farms produce huge amounts of untreated chicken waste, composed of droppings and bedding. The result is high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, polluting water and the surrounding land.

    My knowledge and experience is largely confined to USA. In many parts of the world, families raise chickens in their own yards, and I believe that if people are going to eat chicken, this would be much more environmentally responsible. In many American cities, local ordinances prohibit chickens in cities and towns. I realize you are not writing in (or for) USA, but your words speak to me, and I am glad to have found your blog.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Helen! Thank you so much for your comment.

      My statement about chickens not polluting was with respect to the research papers I referred to for this post (please check the references for more). Also, fowl-meat is non-polluting in terms of greenhouse gas release. They also aren’t responsible for large scale land degradation, like grazers are.
      I agree with what you say about water and soil pollution though. While it cannot be considered “large scale”, it is definitely a source of pollution. I will try to edit the article (I had originally written this for a blog that I am a contributor to; I don’t think I have control over editing articles as a contributor).

      I’m really glad you found the post interesting. Keep reading! I look forward to more comments. I love long comments on my posts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Environment and religion | Eco-Intelligent

  3. Pingback: Animal protection through the ages | Eco-Intelligent

Leave a Reply to Saurab Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s