Veganism is fast becoming popular in the modern world. The main reason behind its growing popularity is that more and more environmentally conscious people are becoming aware of the consequences that eating animal products has on the environment. However, what are the negative effects of veganism on the environment? Is being vegan sustainable?
While veganism has a smaller environmental footprint than meat diets, this is not to say that it has no negative effects on the environment at all. Learning about the negative effects of veganism on the environment can guide us in making the right decisions on how to attain a sustainable future.
In this article, I will go through what veganism entails and if it is really a sustainable diet as most people think!
Table Of Contents
What is Veganism?
Veganism refers to the practice of eating diets that are not derived from animals. In other words, a vegan diet is usually composed of foods that are free from animals, products of animals, or byproducts of animals.
For example, vegan diets avoid the use of eggs, honey, milk, and cheese. On the contrary, these diets usually include plant-based foods, such as:
- Vegetable oils
- Pasta, rice, and bread
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Dairy alternatives, such as almond milk, soymilk, and coconut milk.
- Different legumes, such as lentils, beans, and peas.
Most people confuse Vegan and Vegetarian diets and even use the two terms interchangeably. However, despite both being plant-based and grain-based diets, there are major differences between a vegan and a vegetarian.
While vegetarians do not eat meat, they consume the byproducts of animals, such as eggs and milk.
On the other hand, vegans avoid eating animals as well as their byproducts. Also, there is only one specific type of vegan diet, while vegetarian diets come in different forms that make exceptions for fish or eggs.
Negative Effects of Veganism on the Environment
It is true that plant-based and grain-based diets have a smaller environmental footprint than meat-rich diets. Even so, we cannot say that it is 100% sustainable either.
While the vegan and vegetarian diets do not damage the environment themselves, they include different agricultural systems and practices that are unsustainable.
Consider three major factors that are tied to the veganism diet and pose a negative impact on the environment:
- Grazing animal considerations
- Industrial agriculture
- Meat substitutes
1. Grazing Animal Considerations
Grasslands are very crucial for environmental sustainability (that is one of the three pillars of sustainability). Not only do healthy grasslands sustain soil health, but they also ensure a constant supply of clean water in the ecosystem. Also, they prevent floods and provide enough food production globally.
Similarly, grazing animals have a positive impact on the environment. Consider three ways how grazing benefits the environment when done in a sustainable way:
- Grazing animals aid in land management.
- The offer significant profits from enterprises, such as cover crops, that would usually lead to expenses.
- The animals cycle essential nutrients and carbon from the vegetation and put these back in the ground, such that they lead to soil nourishment and encourage more quality yields.
2. Industrial Agriculture
To successfully raise animals for meat and their byproducts, you will require large amounts of energy, water, land, and feed.
However, veganism is not always green (or sustainable) either. Why do we say so?
Consider these four different ways how industrial agricultures involved with the production of plants negatively impact the environment:
A. Water Consumption
Growing plants uses up large amounts of water. For example, fruits tend to grow and yield well in warm climates which require vast amounts of water.
However, the freshwater that these climates require is not usually available locally. Instead, farmers usually transport it from other regions. Therefore, transporting huge amounts of water needed to grow the plants is extremely costly and inefficient.
Take, for instance, avocado irrigation schemes. Most vegans and vegetarians usually opt for avocados as a protein replacement. Due to their high demand, more and more avocados are being grown, leading to more water usage and eventual water shortage.
Another similar example is the strawberry farms in Florida; the agriculture of these berries has caused the fast reduction of groundwater and natural Wells, even leading to the development of havoc-wreaking sinkholes all over the country!
A. Pollution from Transportation
First, note that fruits and vegetables can only be grown in specific seasons and in specific locations. Therefore, those areas that do not have the right conditions or environments to grow fruits and vegetables may be forced to transport them from elsewhere.
Usually, these agricultural products are transported for thousands of miles before reaching the intended consumer.
According to research, transporting fresh produce by air releases high amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Examples of regularly air-freighted produce that release large quantities of greenhouse gas emissions include African green beans, U.S berries, African peas, and cherries.
In addition, large amounts of perishable foods or fragile produce prone to spoilage go to waste, contributing significantly to the 50% wastage reported in all the fruits and vegetables produced all over the world.
Luckily, there are new green technology companies that are developing innovative green tech to tackle those issues. Hopefully, thanks to the benefits of green technology, in the near future we will be able to stop wasting so much food along our supply chains.
To make enough room for the commercial farming of crops, trees have to be cut down to create vast areas of arable land.
For example, in Mexico, avocado farming and exportation generates the most income than any other form of export. However, the great demand for land has led to a high rate of illegal deforestation in the country.
A. Soil Pollution
To grow enough plants to feed the population, you will need a vast amount of soil; and not just any soil, but quality, fertile soil.
Generally, soils are home to greenhouse gases; they trap greenhouse gases in the soil, preventing their release into the environment.
Therefore, constantly plowing and turning over soil, such as when planting crops, usually leads to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
In addition, soils that are poor in some essential nutrients may require the use of additional pesticides and chemicals to boost crop yield. However, while these chemicals may boost production, they contaminate vegetation, water, and soil.
3. Meat Substitutes
Also known as plant-based meat alternatives, meat substitutes have a negative environmental impact worth putting into consideration.
The production process of most of these meat alternatives involves significant energy and water inefficiencies; inefficiencies that minimize the benefits that these products aim to provide to the environment.
Besides, to make plant products, meatless meats, and highly processed foods that resemble real meat, extra processing has to be done.
This extra processing adds to the negative impact of the foods on the environment, such that these become no different from sustainable animal meats when it comes to the release of greenhouse emissions, energy usage, land usage, and water usage.
Is Veganism Good for the Environment?
Veganism and the environment: veganism, in general, has a smaller carbon footprint than animal-based diets. But still, it has some negative effects on the environment, especially following how the fruits, vegetables and crops are produced.
The fact that veganism has both advantages and disadvantages for the environment may cause you to wonder: Should you ditch the veganism diet or should you adopt it?
Rather than follow the vegan diet which has both positive and negative impacts, most environmental dieticians recommend following the flexitarian diet. This is a type of diet that is partially based on plants, but also consumes meat and byproducts of animals whenever necessary.
A good example of a flexitarian diet would be consuming oat milk while at home, and choosing cow’s milk when asked to choose between cow’s milk and almond milk at a restaurant.
The flexitarian diet is highly recommended because it is more eco-friendly, providing a more positive impact on the environment than meat-rich diets, vegan diets, and vegetarian diets. In fact, by simply switching to the flexitarian diet, you could lower the emission of greenhouse gases by up to 52%.
Veganism Vs Animal-Based Diets
The production of meat has a negative effect on the environment. For example, raising ruminants not only requires farmers to raise significant inputs, but the rearing process also leads to the production of greenhouse gases in huge amounts. The accumulation of greenhouses in the atmosphere contributes to climate change.
Also, remember that most livestock kept for meat production fed on growing plants. However, these plants consumed by animals are usually converted into proteins in an inefficient manner.
Therefore, by eating animal proteins, we increase the environmental resources that are required to produce a similar amount of calories as would be produced by simply cultivating crops for food.
Since veganism reduces the consumption of meat, it has a smaller environmental footprint than that caused by animal-based diets. This makes veganism a more sustainable way of life than eating foods rich in animal proteins.
Are you thinking of going vegan to reduce your overall carbon footprint? But, what are the negative effects of veganism on the environment?
While veganism is sustainable to some degree, it can lead to soil pollution, air pollution, and water depletion, due to the agricultural practices involved.
How about adopting the flexitarian diet instead?
The flexitarian diet helps you avoid the environmentally-degrading effect of plant-based consumption and also reduces meat consumption which leads to a higher carbon footprint.
Therefore, if you want to make a significant contribution to environmental conservation, it is high time you consider adopting a flexitarian diet.