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Those of us eating a plant-based diet often find our food choices causing more questions and consternation during the upcoming weeks than during the rest of the year. One of the perennial concerns I’ve found people have is that if everyone went vegan, what would happen to all the animals—chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows? If we stopped eating them, wouldn’t they just take over the Earth, threatening our survival?

For years this question irked me because it seemed patently ridiculous, and worse, would be used to justify the cruelty of eating animal foods. Now, though, whenever I hear this question, I see it as an opportunity to deliver a brief meditation on how our world can be healed.

Imagining the world gradually going vegan is imagining the most positive possible future for our species, for the Earth, and for all living beings. First of all, as we reduce the number of animals we are eating, that will send a message to agribusiness to forcefully inseminate fewer female pigs, turkeys, cows, fishes, and other animals, so fewer animals will be imprisoned, and there will be less mutilation, killing, violence, terror, and suffering. It also means there will be lower demand for GMO corn, soy, alfalfa and other feed grains, and thus less deforestation, monocropping, and pollution. As this continues, there will be more food to feed starving people, and also monocropped land can be returned to being critically-needed habitat for wildlife, whose populations are being decimated by the habitat loss caused by grazing livestock and growing feed grains.

As the vegan trend continues, streams will come back and run cleaner. More birds, fish, and other animals will be able to thrive, there will be far less toxic pesticides and fertilizers needed, and the oceans, which we are devastating, will begin to heal. As studies continually demonstrate, livestock production is the main driving force behind global warming, and this also will decrease. In addition, by eating less animal-based foods, people will be healthier physically as they eliminate the toxic fat, cholesterol, and animal protein that drive obesity, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, and drug use. People will become healthier emotionally and spiritually, also, as they cause and eat less misery, and our culture, as its level of violence decreases, will become healthier as well.

As forest, rainforest, and prairie communities come back to life, along with riparian and ocean communities, the devastating mass extinction of species that is going on right now will slow down. To raise and slaughter hundreds of millions animals daily for food on this planet, we are forcing hundreds of species of animals and plants into extinction every week. Because of our appetites for a few species of birds, mammals, and fish, we are destroying the Earth’s genetic diversity, and it seems absurd to be unconcerned about these tens of thousands of species, but to care only about the few that we’re eating. In any event, the animals we imprison today for food lived freely in nature for millions of years and could do so again. The animals that we most intensely enslave for food and products, such as turkeys, ducks, geese, chickens, and fish, are all doing just fine in the wild (aside from being hunted and having their habitat destroyed). They would continue to do so, and this is also true for pigs, sheep, and goats, which even today have substantial wild populations. There is no reason to think that the animals we are eating and using wouldn’t be able to return to their natural lives living freely in nature—they already are!

Cows are the only possible question—their progenitors, the aurochs, were forced into extinction in the 1600s, but it is certainly conceivable that cows could be reintroduced into central Asia and Africa where they lived for millions of years, and with time would return to the ecological niche they inhabited before cruel human enslavement tore them from their ancestral homelands.

So, it’s a refreshing question to ponder. It’s remarkably uplifting and heartening to reflect on “what will happen if we all stop eating meat, dairy products, and eggs?” Contemplating this, we see clearly that there’s nothing stopping us from creating a heaven on this beautiful and abundant Earth – nothing except the culturally mandated, deeply-ingrained, and deluded habits of routinely abusing animals for food. Each one of us can question this, and I hope the next time you hear this question, you’ll welcome it enthusiastically!

We can all discuss this question a few times during the holidays, and by doing so, pull back the curtain to reveal the positive future we can create together. There is no action more powerful anyone can take to subvert the dominant paradigm of exploitation and inequality than to shift to a plant-based diet for ethical reasons. By going vegan, and spreading the vegan message creatively, we take the most effective action to create a world where peace, abundance, sustainability, freedom, and universal joy are not just possible but natural.

Image Source: Nick Ares/Flickr

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2 comments on “‘What Would Happen to All the Animals If Everyone Went Vegan?’”

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5 Days ago

If we don\'t kill all the animals wont they still emit greenhouse gases? Surely you simply eat what is still alive and try to reduce the populations until they are gone

2 Months Ago

Gosh, you make living in the wild sound almost heavenly. Nature is just as big of a bitch as human animal farming is. The animals are exposed to the elements, unlike heated chicken pens, for example, and wild animals have to scavenge for food every day of their lives often times starving to death. And if they don\'t freeze in the winter or starve to death from not finding enough food, they can count on being stalked and killed to satisfy another animal\'s hunger pangs. What a way to go huh?! It\'s no picnic out in the wild. I\'ve got a question for you too, who is going to spay all the chickens so they don\'t take over the world? You not-so-cleverly left out the fact that chickens are not force-bred by farmers. You stick one rooster with a couple of hands full of hens and they figure it out all by themselves. But maybe you were thinking ahead about just turning them loose in the wild to fend for themselves. If so, now we\'re right back to the topic of nature being a bitch. You write as if humans are the only animal consumers on the planet. Truth is, if WE don\'t eat them someone else will, and being torn apart limb from limb or from feather to beak, isn\'t a pretty way to go either.

Mirek Badyoczek
8 Months Ago

Do you want to know what would really happen to farm animals if everyone went vegan? that\'s simple: within the next 10-15 years all farm animal species will become extinct with a very few exceptions such as some animals that are used for its wool (some sheep and rabbits).
Why would this happen? 2 reasons
1: what people don\'t realize is that almost all breeds of farm animals have never adapted (we\'re talking genetic adaptation) to live in wild conditions thus in most cases the cold winter would kill them or the searing heat of the summer if they\'re not monitored by humans 24/7, furthermore, most species were bred to be efficient at producing meat or milk which often came at the expense of their ability to reproduce so even if they could survive the outside on their own their species would die out within 2/3 generations (hence the 10-15 years) because they wouldn\'t reproduce fast enough to maintain a population to begin with.
and finally 2: the most obvious reason, as mentioned before, these animals were genetically enhanced for a purpose but also need constant human care and supervision to make sure they survive. That takes effort. And money. a lot of effort and money, having said that if they\'re not being used for their single intended purpose then people will just stop caring for them, and will stop caring about maintaining the species population because there would be no point.
Before you get angry at me and attack me I \'m not against vegans and I\'m not against meat eaters either, I\'m simply giving you a genuinely realistic representation of what would happen to these animal species if everyone went vegan.
Yes this is possible but not without some serious planning, additionally people would have to willingly (and by people I mean people like me or you) to put in A LOT of effort just to uphold the hundreds if not thousands of species of farm animals and a LOT of money (if you never worked in a farm then you will never understand just how much work and money is put into all of this, you would shit your pants if you knew because it\'s nowhere near as much as you think it is)

2 Years Ago

Think about the deforestation needed to reintroduce plants. THink about the job losses and the economic disruption, the civil unrest and the civil wars that would rise from this. Think about that we are naturally created to become omnivores and such a sudden change would be an ecological disaster. Using more pesticides and fertilizers would also be an enormous problem.
We would have less place for forests to exists and more for plans thus deforestation would lead to more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Stop the fear mongering right now. This is more danger to society without knowing any facts and the inability to face reality.

2 Years Ago

If you\'re not opposed to having pets, the average family could have small pet pigs and goats, and chickens in replacement for carnivorous companions. (the latter two would be inviting vegetarianism, instead of veganism, but again, if you\'re flexible and you acknowledge it\'s better than the alternative . . . ) Actually, dogs have been shown to be able to live on a vegan diet, so just cut out cats, ferrets, and any other obligate carnivores.

This would also address Tom H\'s fear of missing fertilization, and bring some easy, cuddly food production closer to home to reduce transportation footprints, too.

Tom H
2 Years Ago

I have a few problems with this;
Firstly I wonder if the increased demand for pulses and grains to replace the protein from the animal products would not require more, huge monoculture crops around the world. Without farmed herbivores how do you re-fertilise these vast monocultures and add organic matter in the soil. Or do you just use synthetic fertilisers and keep harvesting until the soil erodes to desert? I also wonder that every time I see a combine, harvesting wheat or corn I see a trail of kites and other scavenging birds harvesting the thousands of rodents and reptiles killed in its wake- surely if the death of animals is your motivating factor for veganism you’ll have to take to the sickle yourself rather than just adjust your shopping list. I think that most animal products can be farmed and processed in a respectful manner. I hope for agriculture to move to more diverse and localised food production to regenerate our landscape rather than sustain or pillage it and I really don’t think 8 billion people gong vegan would be a fix. I think animals farmed correctly and closer to their consumption can regenerate landscapes and decrease the need for much machinery and transport.
-just my opinion,

Sierra H
12 Oct 2014

According to the UN (you can look this up) there is already enough food on earth to feed 10 billion people. Its just that 34% of the grain produced worldwide goes towards feeing livestock and 16% goes towards biofuels. 94% of the soy produced last year went to feed cows and chickens. The other 6% went to make tofu, and soymilk. We already produce enough stuff for people to become vegan its just we use it to fatten our livestock

Orion H
08 May 2015

Permaculture is already here and not just a concept

k chessman
3 Years Ago

what a load of billocks

Peter Byrne
28 Feb 2014

And the other thing that would happen, K. Chessman, is that everybody would also learn to spell.

Laurie Powell
30 Apr 2014

Dear K, Please share what it is you disagree with so we can consider your point of view. Thank you.

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