Image by Silviarita (via Pixabay)
Veganism is continuing to grow in popularity, but is it a passing trend or something that’s needed more long term, for the sake of both our health and the planet?
For – words by Catarina Vicente
By going vegan for one month, a single person can save the lives of 30 animals, the emission of 620 pounds of carbon dioxide, 913 square feet of forest, and 33,481 gallons of water, according to BBC Good Food’s article ‘What if we all went vegan’. If one person can have this much impact, can we ever measure the effect of everyone on earth turning vegan? It’s nearly impossible to imagine, and entirely unlikely to happen – but if the entire global population decided to go vegan, we’d be saving the world in two ways.
Firstly, and most obviously, we’d be saving the environment, animals and nature alike. The meat and dairy in non-vegan diets makes up the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions in food production; if we all went vegan, this would drop by 70%. The keeping of animals in food production is a big impactor, too; livestock creates 14.5% of manmade greenhouse gas emissions; not including the amount of land needed to make the food to feed livestock. A vegan diet would, thus, reduce the number of animals slaughtered every year, and the amount of land needed to produce the food to feed this livestock; already, this would be a beneficial change.
“Change can only come from action in numbers.”
Secondly, we’d be saving people; it is predicted that in 50 years, the population will increase exponentially to 10 billion people. We are already having trouble feeding everyone, but removing meats from our diets would help this – a meat-eating diet uses 17 times more land than a vegetarian’s, and a switch to a vegan diet would mean that less land could be used to produce more food. This is not to say hunger would be completely eradicated – nowadays, a lot of the food we produce is thrown away, left unsold or gone bad; eradicating hunger would require a change in politics and big businesses. A meat-eating diet can also be unhealthier than a vegan diet – if everyone adopted the latter, we could reduce around 8.1 million deaths a year related to dietary choices.
The hypothetical scenario has several benefits, but if we all went vegan – and that’s a very big if – it would have an incredibly powerful impact. And some might question whether this effect would truly save us from a climate crisis, with corporations creating the majority of the emissions. But change can only come from action in numbers.
Against – words by Katie Chester
With a record-breaking 400,000 people taking part in Veganuary this year and government guidelines in China calling on the nation to reduce their meat consumption by 50%, striving for a healthier lifestyle has never been so popular. While people’s motives for adopting a vegan diet vary from animal rights, the climate crisis or just general dietary requirements, its long-term effects have been called into question.
Agriculture would vastly change if everyone in society were to adopt a plant-based diet. If animals were no longer to be slaughtered for human consumption, then the millions of farm animals that could not return to the wild would be killed, abandoned, or donated to sanctuaries. While some animals such as pigs and sheep could feasibly assimilate back into the wild, many animals are so far removed from their ancestors that it would be impossible to do so, thus their breed would become extinct. On top of that, our destruction of wild habitats through deforestation and the extraction of palm oil (an ingredient that features in the majority of vegan products and is extremely damaging to the ecosystem) would still reduce their numbers.
“Prices of superfoods have increased so much due to Western demand that they have become unaffordable to those who depend on them.”
Another consequence of veganism is the exploitation of non-Western countries. While exploitation is just a biproduct of capitalism and occurs in every section of society, the demand for vegan foods has meant that exporting countries cannot keep up and are often left high and dry. Prices of superfoods have increased so much due to Western demand that they have become unaffordable to those who depend on them. For example, in the Andes in 2013, quinoa became too expensive for the local people to buy, yet this grain is a staple part of the regions diet. Since 2006, the price of quinoa has trebled to $7 a kilogram – more expensive than chicken – causing average quinoa consumption in the region to decrease. Furthermore, the millennial surge for avocados has meant that Mexico makes more money from exporting avocados than it does from petroleum, and it has become a driving force in illegal deforestation to make way for planting more avocado trees to keep up with demand.
If done right, a vegan diet can be extremely beneficial, yet it is impossible to assume that everyone in the world would be able to survive on one. It is likely that most people would not incorporate proper supplementation if forced to become vegan, and so this alone can result in serious health problems. There have been medical studies to prove that a solely plant-based diet is risky during pregnancy and in infants due to animal products being particularly dense in nutrients. Furthermore, although there is a great variety of imitation meat available, it is often expensive and not very viable. For example, in 2013 the first burger patty to be made from a petri-dish came at a cost of $300,000 and took two years to create. Finally, one must ask ourselves how sustainable the food we would be eating really is if future societies were to become completely vegan. Surely eating organic chicken from a local butcher is more environmentally friendly than eating lentils, beans and mangos that have travelled across the world to land in our shopping baskets?
Editor’s take – words by Hannah Penwright
In a world where we are constantly being made aware of the impacts our lifestyle choices are having on our health and the environment, sometimes it can get overwhelming and frustrating to know what we should be eating. I’ve made some quite big changes to my diet over the past few years to cut down on my contribution to climate change, but often it can feel like I’m not doing enough, or my changes on an individual level won’t have any impact. Considering the whole world as vegan is difficult to comprehend, and perhaps it will never need to happen if we find different ways to combat the climate crisis. Personally, after reflecting on the arguments made above, I still feel as though we should cut down on meat and dairy where we can to help lower our own carbon footprint, but it’s important to consider how other foods you are eating as replacements are impacting other countries too.
At the end of the day, the decisions we make surrounding food are our own individual choices, and a part of life that we can and should take great joy in when sometimes, other areas of our lives are not so controllable. The impact our diets are having on our health and the environment is important to keep in mind so we can live responsible lives in which we want to see and make positive change. However, if your relationship with food has become more about guilt than it has enjoying and experimenting with the wonderful ingredients and flavours available to us, perhaps it’s time to take a step back, re-evaluate your food choices, and go and enjoy that cheeseburger you’ve been craving all week.