Veganism has taken the world by storm in the past decade. While the increasingly popular ideology aims towards saving the world, is veganism really sustainable in the long-run?
Veganism is an ideology that discourages the consumption of any animal products in diet or daily life. This ideology is gaining massive popularity as startups explore the market for vegan products and services. The boom in easily available vegan products is making veganism a more achievable lifestyle than before. Thousands of people across the world have adopted such a lifestyle for various reasons in recent years. While some hope to adopt a healthier and more environmentally-conscious lifestyle, some become vegan to express their stance against animal cruelty.
The plant-based lifestyle in and of itself can be healthy and eco-friendly. However, it is not the environmental cure-all that some have heralded it to be. As of 2020, The global vegan food market was worth about US$15.4 billion. The over-industrialization of the lifestyle to meet growing demands begs to argue that a vegan lifestyle is not an inherently greener one. So, is veganism truly sustainable?
Effects of the vegan diet
- Veganism can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the overall amount of animal products being processed and produced.
- Reduction of heavy grazing animals like cows can solve the issue of soil compaction, which prevents plant growth and rainwater absorption and causes erosion and loss of fertile topsoil.
- Vegan diets can help with weight loss and reducing the risk of getting prominent diseases, such as heart issues, diabetes, obesity, that are often associated with meat consumption.
- Elimination of animal agriculture would free up vast tracts of land, that can be used for agricultural purposes or be left to return to its natural state to counteract climate change.
- The importing of produce to maintain holistic vegan diets will result in harmful emissions via transport and shipping. Processed vegan products like meat substitutes also contribute to the problem.
- The high demands for vegan foods promote heavily industrialized agriculture. Over-cultivation of foods like quinoa has lead to severe degradation of soil fertility.
- Locally grown produce may not always be diverse enough to be holistic and nutritionally adequate. Imported fruits and vegetables are too expensive on a regular basis, making vegan diets inaccessible to many. These diets are also often deficient in fats and proteins.
- Approximately one billion people across the world would lose their livelihood without animal agriculture. These people are mostly small-scale farmers in developing nations.
Veganism in day-to-day products
While the vegan diet is the flagship of the phenomenon, veganism is a complete lifestyle for many that follow it. Meaning, they also do not use products, such as cosmetics and clothes, made with the use of animals in their day-to-day lives.
Plant-based textiles like cotton, flax and jute are well-loved, but synthetic fibers are fast taking up the empty spaces that animal fibers had left in the hearts and markets of vegan fashionistas. Synthetic fibers are versatile in their uses and appearance. They can imitate the look and texture of natural fabrics like leather and fur with the added benefit of being significantly cheaper.
But synthetic fibers are a double-edged sword, as they are often not biodegradable. Plastic-based fabrics like faux fur send millions of microplastic pieces into our waterways with every wash.
Cosmetics face a similar issue with vegan products. They may be free of common animal substances like beeswax, honey or animal fats, but may still contain heavy metals like lead and aluminum, nanoparticles and synthetic coloring. This reinforces the fact that vegan products are not inherently better for the environment or one’s health.
Veganism vs vegetarianism
The vegan ideology may seem a bit extreme for the majority of the global population, but there are indeed merits to plant-based diets. Vegetarian diets are plant-based diets that accomplish many of the same objectives as vegan diets while being a lot more flexible and sustainable.
There are various types of vegetarian diets, with Lacto-Ovo (milk and egg-eating)being the most common. As the name suggests, this diet includes dairy products and eggs but avoids meat, poultry and seafood. Lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but no eggs, meat, poultry or seafood. Ovo vegetarians eat eggs but no dairy products, meat, poultry or seafood.
While vegetarianism does not completely put an end to animal consumption as veganism does, it can meet some of the latter’s objectives effectively. Vegetarianism can significantly cut down greenhouse gas emissions while providing a more nutritionally balanced and logistically sustainable option.
Image courtesy of Unsplash