Is Being Vegan Sustainable? Exploring the Environmental Impact of Plant-Based Diets

Due to the increasing demand for meat, 94% of non-human mammals and 71% of poultry live in intensive farming factories, causing an immense consumption of water, land, and electricity. As more people are becoming aware of their impact on the planet, even animal product consumption is punt on a doubt. In order to fight against animal cruelty and reduce their carbon footprint people are opting for a plant-based diet (either vegetarian or vegan). In fact, proponents of veganism argue that eliminating animal derivatives from your diet can have a positive effect on the environment. However, like any complex issue, whether being vegan is truly sustainable requires a deeper exploration. In this article, we'll examine the environmental impact of plant-based diets, evaluating the benefits and challenges to understand if being vegan aligns with sustainable principles.

The Environmental Benefits

1. Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Animal agriculture contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane and nitrous oxide. In particular livestock farming accounts for 14,5% of the general human-cause global emissions. Consider that bovine meat is the food with the highest production of greenhouse emissions (59.57 kg per kg of food). By choosing a plant-based diet individuals can significantly lower their carbon footprint and contribute to mitigating climate change.

2. Land Conservation

Livestock farming requires vast amounts of land and water. In particular, 90 percent of deforestation is due to animal grazing and crops grown for both human and animal consumption. Switching to a plant-based diet can reduce the demand for agricultural land and preserve biodiversity.  

3. Biodiversity Preservation

Since animal agriculture involves deforestation, these phenomena lead to a huge loss of biodiversity. By destroying their natural habitat, the animals lose their territory causing problems for the human population. They become more aggressive and look for food in new lands, like human cities, and villages. Moreover, in the worst case, by losing their habitat these animals are put on a risk of extinction. So, by reducing meat consumption, individuals can indirectly protect natural habitats and preserve biodiversity.

4. Decreased Water Usage

The production of animal products requires substantial water inputs, from livestock hydration to irrigation of feed crops.  A vegan diet typically demands less water, in particular, according to Dana Hunnes at the UCLA Sustainability Department, a plant-based diet can reduce water consumption by up to 50 % compared to an omnivore one.

The Complexities and Challenges

1. Nutritional Considerations

While a vegetarian diet can be nutritionally complete, individuals who prefer a stricter vegan one must pay careful attention to obtaining those essential nutrients. Vitamin B12, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein can be difficult to obtain without consuming any animal derivative. Speak with your doctor or nutritionist to create a proper plan and consider adding the necessary supplements to maintain optimal health.

2. Mono-Crop Cultivation

The demand for certain plant-based foods can lead to intensive monoculture cultivation like soy, maize, and avocados. This phenomenon leads to soil erosion, massive pesticide use, hoger use of water, and loss of biodiversity, putting on a particular risk pollinators, essential for the ecosystem. Choosing a variety of locally produced plant-based foods can help mitigate these concerns while supporting smaller and organic farming.

3. Food Transportation

Some vegan diets heavily rely on imported fruits, vegetables, and plant-based alternatives. For example in 2022, worldwide avocados exports by country totaled 7.35 billion US$. The carbon footprint associated with transporting these goods long distances has a huge impact on the planet and it can offset some of the environmental benefits of this dietary choice.

4. Food Processing

Not all vegan foods are created equal in terms of environmental impact. Highly processed vegan options, like Beyond Meat, which is plant-based, but tastes like real ones;  may require energy-intensive manufacturing processes and packaging, potentially negating some of the sustainability gains.

5. Local Considerations

The sustainability of a vegan diet can vary based on geographic location. In areas with limited access to fresh produce, local animal products might have a lower carbon footprint than importing plant-based alternatives.

The question of whether being vegan is sustainable is very complex and it doesn't have a straightforward answer. Plant-based diets can undoubtedly offer significant environmental benefits, particularly when compared to diets heavily reliant on animal products. However, it's essential to approach veganism with a well-informed and balanced perspective. A sustainable diet, whether vegan or not, needs to consider factors such as nutritional completeness, local food sources, minimal food processing, and responsible consumption.

In the broader context, promoting sustainability involves not only dietary choices but also considerations like reducing food waste, supporting sustainable agriculture, and advocating for better food production practices. As we navigate the complex landscape of sustainability, the key lies in making thoughtful and informed choices that contribute positively to both our health and the health of the planet.

In this pursuit of sustainability, our app QA'LIL, offers a range of vegan and vegetarian options, making it easier for individuals to embrace plant-based diets and reduce their environmental footprint. Download QA'LIL today and take a step towards a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle.