Veganism and The Virus
written by Krish Kurva
Guest feature: In our first guest-written article (since the new website), Krish writes about the pandemic and our planet, how things are more intertwined than you might think, and why veganism is the key to a number of the critical problems we face.
Covid-19 literally halted the world. Yet I was happy. Not because this pandemic brought with it loss of life, human suffering, economic damage and even a dramatic change in our lifestyle; in spite of it. I was glad we halted. The Earth, our beautiful, generous planet finally got a breath of fresh air. The animals that we share this land with, momentarily, got to venture out of their pocketed forests and explore areas of human settlements. For that cosmic second, we stopped harming the land and in that quiet, got to catch a glimpse of what the Earth might look like if we were not dominating the scene. Dr. Jonas Salk’s popular quote comes to mind: “If all the insects were to disappear from the Earth, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.” Although humans were not away for 50 years, during our brief lockdown, life - the animals and environment that we hardly concern ourselves with in our daily lives - really did thrive.
Do you also find it curious that while COVID-19 plagued the human race, reaching nearly every country on the planet, the immediate outcome of the pandemonium was beneficial to the planet? Our worst moment was nature at her best. I believe this dichotomy really encapsulates our present relationship with our land. For millennia, humans have been in conflict with the natural world, our interests have always been diametrically opposed to Nature! In recent times, the past 200 years, this conflict has not just increased, it has accelerated! It is apparent that as the human population increases and as our population as a whole grows wealthier, the demand and stress that we exert on the planet compounds. This manifests as environmental destruction, pollution, loss of biodiversity worsening at an unprecedented rate. For a true solution to be found, we need to adopt a mindset centred around a collaborative, respectful and healthy attitude towards nature. Our present approach is far too dualistic: humans against nature, where we commodify and consume its various resources. The consequences of our current actions have a profound, often unacknowledged, impact on our individual health, public health and the health of the global economy.
COVID-19 was entirely avoidable! It was well documented in pre-pandemic scientific literature that a coronavirus outbreak was likely to originate from bats and even occur in China. Other similar coronaviruses like SARS, transmitted from bats to civets to humans. MERS, whose intermediate species was the camel have also been seen recently. Like these coronaviruses, other outbreaks have also plagued either livestock, humans or both. The emergent diseases include avian influenza, salmonellosis (poultry and humans), Newcastle disease (poultry), swine flu, Nipah virus (pigs and humans), bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis (mostly cattle and humans), rabies (dogs and humans), West Nile virus and Ebola (humans). Despite this risk of a pandemic, we chose not to take the appropriate precautionary steps, ignoring all the telltale signs. 75% of all infectious diseases, and all viral diseases are zoonotic in nature! COVID-19 was traced to Huanan Seafood wholesale market, Wuhan, where 75 species of wild animals were sold. The theory is that high population density and the unhygienic conditions of animals present in the market aided the mutation of the virus such that it could transmit to humans. COVID-19 as with other coronaviruses emerged from bats. The prevalence of these viruses are expedited by the deforestation pressures and conversion of wild areas to agricultural and suburban areas. These changes enable bats to thrive in this altered anthropized landscape, more so than in their highly selective natural, balanced biosphere. Harboured in barns and houses, these human spaces allow them to more easily feed on insects which aggregate in large numbers around the artificial lights. The thriving bats in suburban areas, owing to the loss of their forested environment, increase the risk of transmission to domesticated or caged animals. In this case of the coronavirus, the intermediate host was the pangolin; the most poached and trafficked mammal on the planet, coveted for it’s meat as a delicacy and scales for use in traditional medicine
A joint report by the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Organisation for Animal Health note that the main drivers for the recent increase in infectious zoonotic disease has been the increased demand for animal protein. The rise of intensive farming practices, bush meat consumption, global trade in meats and the overall destruction of natural habitats .ie. encroachment on the forests and conversion of wetlands, has increased the incidence and severity of infectious diseases. The rise in livestock density as well as increased interaction between humans-livestock-wild animals has augmented the risk of pathogen transmission. This coupled with the reduction in native biodiversity can worsen the situation. We have debilitated the natural world to such a significant degree, that humans and livestock account for 96% of the world’s mammalian mass, 26% and 70% respectively, while wild mammals account for just 4%!
A solution needs to be available at every level: namely individual action, community engagement as well as economic viability; while coherence with natural and environmental concerns is paramount. Plant based diets unequivocally reign supreme as the single best solution. They directly counter the main causes of pandemics and infectious disease, and thus work towards preventing the risk of such a catastrophe from occurring again. Another pandemic would be cataclysmic, and the risk of a new pandemic emerging, given our current lifestyle, is inevitable. Plant Based diets, wonderfully, have broad holistic health benefits. They are the best way for an individual to take action and improve their personal lifestyle, tackle the risk of pandemics and even curb the emergence of infectious diseases. This lifestyle change concurrently alleviates the primary causes of broader issues like soil, air and water pollution, environmental degradation, climate change and the loss of natural biodiversity.
The risk of contracting a severe infection of COVID-19 is ameliorated by the prevalence of co-morbidities. The precondition of high blood pressure, heart disease or combination of the two significantly increases the likelihood: doubles, triples and quadruples, respectively, of suffering greatly if infected with the coronavirus. Plant based diets reverse these detrimental preconditions, thus minimising the severity of the virus. The Eat-Lancet commission, comprising of 37 scientists from across the globe provide a recommendation to tackle the rising global health epidemic: increasing incidence of obesity, strokes, diabetes and heart disease. It states that a significant drop in meat consumption down to less than 28 grams a day, and a more than 100% increase in the consumption of legumes, nuts, fruit and vegetables counters this epidemic and could save the lives of 11.6 million people a year!
Eating healthy, plant based diets could also have a significant economic benefit, saving about 30 trillion dollars per annum globally! Animal agriculture, especially in the West, is subsidised heavily by the government, lowering the cost of producing animal protein as well as crops like sugarcane, beets, corn and soy grown in huge quantities to feed livestock. All while there has been a growing barrage of scientific literature for the past half century that has come to reveal that a healthy diet actually constitutes fewer animal products and refined carbohydrates, and more vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains. This means that our subsidies inadvertently fund our poor health and the rapidly deteriorating health of the planet!
Eliminating meat from your diet would also combat the largest driver of habitat loss; livestock production, which is also the leading cause of climate change, soil and water pollution and the loss of biodiversity! This is especially critical in tropical countries, as the rainforests of emerging economies are being cleared to accommodate increased agricultural requirements. The overall environmental impact of our diets is quite alarming: when compared to eating entirely plant based. Eggs and dairy consumption can be 9.2 times more detrimental, whereas eating meat, eggs and dairy may be 17.3 times more damaging to the environment, when accounted for wholly. Our unsustainable and environmentally detrimental lifestyle got us into this predicament, and we need to change our lifestyle in order to get out of it. The increasing availability of substitutes like plant based milks and mock meats is a step in the right direction.
Further action to supplement and accelerate the upswing of pandemic prevention and environmental regeneration is to help re-wilding and conservation efforts. Although the lockdown may have caused a lot of stress, we can learn from it: to live simply and consume fewer items. We need to be more generous with our planet, and live according to the knowledge that we share this world with millions of other plant and animal species - our fellow earthlings.
Did you enjoy the read and are you looking for more?
Read about the effect of animal agriculture driven soy farming in 'The truth about Soy', and about what you can do to minimise your impact on the planet in '9 Things Students Can Do to Help the Environment'.