There are many vegans and vegetarians all over the world and all have different reasons for it. Being vegan is different from being a vegetarian; Veganism is a lifestyle choice that avoids animal products not only for diet but for everything else, including clothes, makeup, etc. This lifestyle has many benefits, and today we’re dissecting if it’s good for the environment.
Veganism benefits the environment by not contributing to animal farming, which is a contributor to greenhouse gases, and ultimately climate change. Being vegan can be a great choice for human health, but as far as the environment, that’s up for discussion.
This is a hard topic to cover, whether you eat meat or not, anything you google will support your answer. I felt more lost and confused as I was trying to pinpoint if eating more vegetables and reducing meat would help the environment.
Vegan vs. Carnivore: Which is More Environmentally Friendly
Veganism is such a big topic because it’s a lifestyle, it affects everything you do daily, so instead of diving deep into all the areas, we are only focusing on the environmental impact. Since that’s one reason most people choose to do it.
After gathering some information from both sides, it seems both are damaging to the environment. If we didn’t have to eat food, the planet would be a lot more carbon-neutral than it currently is. But since we have to feed billions of people, both plant and meat require large amounts of land, large amounts of water, processing, transportation, etc. which all contribute to climate change.
According to this chart by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) showing the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture is part of the top 5 categories coming in at 11%. I do want to point out that it’s the smallest of the 5 categories following transportation, electrical, and industry. The agricultural sector includes things like fertilizers, drainage, and irrigation practices as well as livestock producing methane and manure. This means it applies to both agriculture for plant foods as well as farming for meat and dairy.
Producing meat uses a lot of natural resources, the start of the process can include deforestation, the process of cutting down trees to clear an area, then breeding, raising, slaughtering, packaging, transportation, etc. All of which produces a great amount of greenhouse gases.
Another potent gas of concern from livestock is methane. Cows burp out methane as they are digesting food. Livestock emissions account for about 32% of human-caused methane emissions, and methane is 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide.
This doesn’t mean that a plant-based diet is off the hook though. Farming in general requires a lot of natural resources as well including deforestation. This article by BBC points out the plant foods that are not as green to produce as we think. Fruits like avocadoes, mangos, and plums require about 400 gallons of water combined to produce one kilogram of fruit. The condition of space needed to keep mushrooms produce carbon dioxide, fertilizers required to grow mycoprotein produces carbon dioxide, cocoa is a major drive in deforestation, and almond and cashews are the most water-intensive large-scale crops grown on the planet.
As we can see, a lot goes into both plant and animal production for consumption. Both can be damaging to the environment if we continue as we do, and don’t regulate better practices.
Does Being Vegan Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Everything you do has a carbon footprint. The car you drive, the electricity powering your house, the water to wash your dishes, pretty much anything convenient in your daily life, even the food you eat.
What is interesting to know though, the two biggest drivers of tropical deforestation are beef and soy according to this article by World Wild Life. Soy of course is one of the top vegan foods to eat as a meat substitute, as tofu, soy curls, soy milk, etc.
If we are talking about carbon footprint when it comes to eating more plants, it still doesn’t work. I don’t think we’re looking at the big picture or factoring everything in. It sounds simple if we say vegetable farming doesn’t cause as many greenhouse gases as farming animals do, therefore eat more vegetables, and the problem is solved.
Have you noticed most of the fruits and vegetables you eat are available all year round, or extravagant fruits you don’t normally eat are available at your local store? Not everything can be grown locally and all year round so fruits and vegetables are constantly being transported from other states or flown in from other countries. Which contributes to the big 5 sources, transportation!
Here is an interesting video filling in some of the gaps about reducing meat intake statistics. It addresses the common arguments about cows using water, crops to feed them, land usage for agriculture, and more.
Is Being Vegan Environmentally Sustainable
As we now have seen, reducing meat intake is such a smaller issue compared to the bigger problems we need to solve. Agriculture used for plants and animals is a massive take because there’s limited land for each use and large amounts of water and energy for both. It’s hard to eliminate one and ignore the other as we saw in the video that cows are a vital part of the ecosystem.
Fruits and vegetables must be grown in specific places where the soil is richer, and in areas where land is not farmable, cows can be raised there to produce more sources of food. Otherwise, just wasted land that could’ve been useful for something else.
I’ve gathered that balance can be good as far as land use. If there were no meat eaters we’d have to find a way to grow more food with the limited land that is available for growing crops. Same as the reverse, if there were only meat eaters, we probably wouldn’t have enough to feed everyone. Let’s not even get into the health concerns here.
This was not an easy topic, and I still don’t know what to believe or what to do exactly to help the environment with my eating choices. But from everything gathered, at an individual level, removing meat doesn’t sound like it’s that helpful because it’s the agricultural practices that need to be addressed. The way that we can help is by voting and speaking up. This doesn’t mean it’s a good reason to continue eating meat three times a day every day, we know the problems so we can now make conscious decisions when deciding what to eat.
Knowing where our food comes from is important. Shopping locally at the farmer’s market and not purchasing food that has been imported, buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. To be sustainable with food, we must not waste it, or else we contributed to everything that is required to make the food just so it can end up in a landfill producing even more greenhouse gases. Plan meals ahead of time, go to the store with a list, or meal prep food so nothing ever goes to waste. Learn how to compost and recycle food scraps, start your own garden!