Is veganism the most sustainable lifestyle?

A lot of people see veganism as a new diet that has become trendy. Now being vegan is cool. Therefore, it is not surprising that walking through the city we can find more and more vegan restaurants perfect to show off at Instagram. In supermarkets the veggie food offer is increasing, and even in McDonald’s you can order a veggie burger. For many people, veganism is only that, just a fad diet. But, it goes further and it is important to know what the meaning of this word is due to avoid making mistakes.

Veganism is “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals;” as defined by Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society and coiner of the word vegan. This philosophy implies rejecting both food and products of animal origin, such as honey, wool or fur. Likewise, due to the origin of its components, a large part of the cosmetics and cleaning products we use are also avoided.

Impacts on the environment

Forks Over Knives, a 2011 documentary film on vegetarian diet directed by Lee Fulkerson, provides various arguments to replace the consumption of animal products by others of plant origin with the aim of achieving a more sustainable and fair world, through the testimonial of various researchers:

  • One calorie of animal origin requires about 10 times the input of fossil fuel energy than one calorie of plant origin.
  • Since the 70s, 20 percent of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed and 80 percent of land deforested in the Amazon is now used for cattle pasture.
  • The world's cattle alone eat enough grain to feed 8.7 billion people
  • There are around billion people who are undernourished around the world that could be fed if the use and distribution of grains were changed.

Furthermore, according to the 2016 Annual Report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), agriculture and livestock sector greenhouse emissions’ represents a 20 per cent, only the energy industry has a greater responsibility (47 per cent) in the rise in global temperature due to the production of this type of gases.

Maylis Knispel and Paula Boquera, authors of the article.

But is it possible to be a responsible consumer committed to improving the environment while consuming products of animal origin?

There are other alternatives, you just need to be well-informed about the products’ origin. For example, consuming sustainable livestock products would be a good option. The figures in the FAO report estimate that the general adoption of sustainable practices in the livestock sector could cut livestock methane emissions by up to 41 percent. 

In conclusion, what is important in our society is a full awareness of the power that each one of us has as consumers to contribute to improving the planet and reducing our environmental impact. Adopting a broader approach, the decision to be vegan can be beneficial at all levels, underlining the greatest care for the environment whose fruits our future generations will come to enjoy.