What is the impact of veganism on the environment?

Today Show

When discussing climate change, one of the things that often comes up among the plethora of things we can do to fight it, is switching to a plant-based diet. Since the seemingly sudden influx of information regarding veganism and its positive impacts on both our health and the planet, the vegan diet has been met with some resistance and even criticism from sceptics. It was seen as a trend for the social media-savvy influencer, and as an aggressive ideology forced on the public by paradoxically angry hippies and tree huggers. Relatively recently however, vegan options have made their way into the menus of your local restaurants and have been accepted by the mainstream consumer.


With the information compiled from countless studies, this is a bit of what we know so far about the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet:

  • Less deforestation: the huge demand for meat means that the land required for cattle farming needs to match it, and it’s continually increasing. PETA reports that in order to match our current meat consumption, seven football fields’ worth of land is bulldozed every minute for farmed animals and the crops to feed them.

  • Less water waste: a meat-eater’s diet requires 4000 gallons of water a day as opposed to the 300 gallons used for a vegan diet. You’ll end up saving more water not eating one pound of meat than by not showering for six months!

  • Less air and water pollution: Agricultural runoff (trillion pounds of waste containing bacteria and chemicals from animal farming), is the number one source of waterway pollution. Factory farming also produces toxic emissions that can cause immune, inflammatory and neurochemical problems in humans.
Photo by Vanessa Garcia on Pexels.com

With all of this said, a plant-based diet still receives backlash for promoting some questionable production practices of certain specialty foods that have become staples in a vegan diet. A couple of favourite food items that raise concern are:

  • Quinoa: the demand of quinoa has adversely impacted farmers, who now rarely enjoy its benefits and instead sell or trade it for pasta or rice since the value of quinoa has skyrocketed. This high demand has also meant a scramble for more farming space and moving away from sustainable agriculture practices.

  • Almond milk: the market for almond milk surged by 250% between 2010-2015. The almond crop is one of the most water-intensive in the world, the demand negatively affecting drought-stricken, Californian irrigation systems and natural lands, that have been converted into almond farms.
Bolivian Quinoa Farmers by Ravi Jolly
Californian Almond Farm The Telegraph

Keeping this in mind, the best policy seems to be: research, first and foremost. Maybe doing a quick search of some of your diet staples could change the way you look at them, how often you purchase them, where you buy them from and whether you even continue using them. Another thing is sticking to locally produced and seasonal when you can. This alleviates importing costs on the environment and the more rigorous processes of production involved. In life, we’re constantly learning new things and effectively growing and adapting to that knowledge, so it should be no different when it comes to our diets. All it takes is a little effort and openness to change.

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