What Would Happen If Everyone Stopped Eating Meat?


What would happen if the whole world suddenly decided to give up meat? How much difference would it really make? And would it all be positive? (BBC)

What is a vegetarian diet? How do vegetarian and other diets impact our health, environment, and cultural identity? Use our resources to get some ideas.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Discussion Ideas

  • The BBC article and the AsapSCIENCE video speculate what might happen if the world went vegetarian. What is a vegetarian diet? Do a quick scan of our resource on diet for some help.
    • Vegetarian describes a diet that does not include meat, fish, or poultry. People choose to be vegetarian for many reasons, including personal health, religion, concern for animal welfare, or concern about the environment.


  • What might be some benefits of a global vegetarian diet for human health and welfare?



  • What might be some benefits of a global vegetarian diet for biodiversity?
    • Farmland for crops generally requires far fewer acres than farmland used for ranching and livestock. Some tracts of land may revert to natural ecosystems, providing increased habitat and migration corridors for endemic and migrating species.
    • “Converting former pastures to native habitats would likely also be a boon to biodiversity, including for large herbivores such as buffalo that were pushed out for cattle, as well as for predators like wolves that are often killed in retaliation for attacking livestock.”


  • What might be some costs of a global vegetarian diet for biodiversity?
    • Converted livestock farmland may result in increased urban and suburban sprawl.
    • Centuries of livestock farming has so shaped the landscape that some livestock may be needed to maintain biodiversity. “I’m sitting here in Scotland where the Highlands environment is very manmade and based largely on grazing by sheep,” says one researcher. “If we took all the sheep away, the environment would look different and there would be a potential negative impact on biodiversity.”


Vegetarian diets would shrink greenhouse gas emissions. Graph by National Geographic magazine
Vegetarian diets would shrink greenhouse gas emissions.
Graph by National Geographic magazine
  • What might be some environmental benefits to global vegetarian diet?


  • What might be some environmental costs to global vegetarian diet?
    • Many agricultural regions are not natural “farmlands” and have nutrient-poor soil. When parts of the Sahel were converted from ranchland to cropland, the result was desertification.
    • Converting former ranchland to forest or grassland would require significant amounts of time, money, and effort.


  • “It’s not this either-or, vegetarian-or-carnivore scenario,” says one expert. How can we modify our diets to best balance the costs and benefits of a vegetarian diet?
    • Eat less. Smaller portion sizes reduce our foodie footprint.
    • Eat less meat.
    • Make meat more expensive.
    • Reduce prices of fruits and vegetables.
    • Reduce your food waste—fewer than 50% of the calories currently produced are actually used effectively.



BBC Future: What would happen if the world suddenly went vegetarian?

Nat Geo: What is a diet? encyclopedic entry

Nat Geo: The Paradox of Undernourishment map/article

4 thoughts on “What Would Happen If Everyone Stopped Eating Meat?

  1. A poorly informed summary not worthy of National Geographic.

    Cattle/buffalo evolved WITH grasslands. Grasslands die without ruminants, just like a lawn that is not fertilized and maintained to reduce thatch will quickly develop weeds and bare spots. Ruminants built the grasslands of the world, thus, the rich soils that make the breadbasket of the Midwest and in other countries worldwide.

    Thus, Audubon certifies beef in supermarkets in more than a dozen states, with the tag: “No cows, no grass, no birds!!!”

    If no cattle, no organic farming, which means that we all eat from the industrial model that is destroying soil and poisoning our air and water. The basis of organic food is real soil built with manure and other byproducts from animals.

    No cattle, more drought. Rich soils hold water, desertifying land is increasing already around the world. Dead soils have no moisture, won’t hold it when it rains, and won’t release moisture into the air to renew the water cycle.

    Note: livestock are a constantly renewable resource which deliver products from their carcasses that are invaluable. Without livestock, all of those products, from leather to pet food to bone meal, blood meal for organic fertilizer, to heart valves, to gelatin for vitamin coatings, plasma protein, crayons, candles, floor wax, shaving cream, lubricants, tennis strings, insulin, epinephrin and much more…will then become NON RENEWABLE, industrially made, increasing CO2 emissions from industry, toxic chemicals in environment. Real leather can last for centuries. Fake leather, for example, only 3-5 years.

    86% of the global livestock feed intake is made of materials that are inedible by humans, 46% being grass and leaves. Only 14% is grain or soy–never a cow’s choice, by the way.

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