A Study in Veganism & Sustainability

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

Nowadays, veganism seems to be the new trend for those who care about sustainability. Yet more and more people are claiming that being a vegan doesn’t necessarily mean you are more sustainable. Which one is right? How does veganism relate to sustainability?

We know that there is no right or wrong way to talk about sustainability. However, any data and statistics we use today are to shed light on both sides of veganism to sustainability, hopefully, to represent (in general) both its supporters and opponents.

What Does a Vegan Diet Entail?

Veganism is a lifestyle that aims to exclude all animal products, including products that involve animal cruelty in their manufacturing process. However, a vegan diet refers explicitly to a diet that foregoes animal foods, whether meat or dairy.

Therefore, you can expect a vegan diet to consist mainly of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains.

Why Veganism is the Key to Sustainability

First off, let’s consider why veganism may be the key to leading a sustainable lifestyle. For instance, it’s a well-known fact that the meat industry has a considerable environmental impact. According to a recent 2021 journal, animal agriculture makes up at least 87% of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases are directly worsening climate change and triggering extreme weather around the world.

The famous documentary Cowspiracy also claims that the global cow population consumes 45 billion gallons of water instead of the humans’ meager 5.2 billion gallons. But, of course, if we exclude the water from rainwater reserves, the former will substantially go down. Nevertheless, it’s still much higher than the number of water humans drink, so the effects of mass agriculture are something we can’t discount.

In addition, plant-based diets require much less percentage of the land necessary to sustain an omnivorous diet. For example, did you know that 5.6 million acres of the estate are set aside for soya bean farms in Brazil? Yes, soya for animal feed instead of humans.

Imagine if more people switched to a vegan diet, and so we can use all these lands to farm fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for people who need them. Wouldn’t that seem like an ideal world to you?

How Veganism May Not Be Sustainable

On the other hand, some critics say that a vegan diet isn’t always the most sustainable option. They often evoke stories about avocados, cocoas, and almonds that are not only environmentally taxing but ethically too.

For instance, avocados are known to need as much as 1,981 mᶾ per ton of fruits. Countries including Peru and Chile have seen a surge in avocado demand, which causes illegal water extraction from local rivers. However, we think it’s important to compare this to the lowest water footprint of an animal product: chicken eggs at 3,300 mᶾ per ton.

Cocoa is another food item often cited by opponents of veganism for sustainability. Indeed, it’s a significant cause for deforestation and the biggest threat to biodiversity after meat products. Cacao tree plantations have used up over 2.1 million hectares of forest. Once more, we shouldn’t disregard the fact that palm oil and soy still cause significantly more deforestation each year.

Finally, nuts like cashew, almonds, and walnuts are also water-intensive. As worldwide demand for these crops grows, so does the amount of water used for plantations. Yes, this is something that vegans should know. The estimate is that each kilogram of shelled nuts requires around 909 gallons of freshwater.

Almonds, in particular, need a notorious amount of pesticide and fertilizer, both of which have negative environmental impacts. Finally, we should acknowledge worker exploitation that has probably been happening in farms all around the world. Remember, striving towards a well-made world includes thinking of the wellbeing of its population too!

Final Verdict

What have we learned so far? If eating meat is taking up more clean water and land portions than necessary, the logical alternative is to eat a plant-based diet. However, it turns out plants require lots of water and land to flourish too. So what do we do then? Not eat?

Sustainability is a delicate topic, and we would say that the best thing you can do is live as intentionally as you can. As the adage goes: everything in moderation. If you are a vegan, make sure that you’re sourcing as much produce from your local farmers as possible. Even if you still love your fried chicken and steaks, simply reducing your meat intake can make a huge difference.