Each year a new diet, food trend or health fad becomes the latest must-follow trend and, in an attempt to be healthy, lose weight or simply just be part of the movement, we jump on it in the hopes of a wonder cure.
Avocados, beetroot juice, chia seeds, turmeric lattes, poke bowls, cider vinegar water, coconut water, plant-based veganism, the list is endless, but is meat-free, guilt-free?
Veganuary is a charity whose ethos is to inspire people to become vegan for January, and perhaps life if the New Year resolution sticks. Despite Veganuary being promoted as a healthy option, it also lists eating vegan as making more of a positive impact than giving up your car1. But how much impact can one person going meat-free really have on the environment and is it enough to sway the masses?
The demand for meat-free food increased by a staggering 987% in 20172 and became one of the biggest food trends of 2018. Promises of health benefits as a result of eating a vegan diet were strong assurances to make the change in diet. Nutrients found in fruit and vegetables, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and E are a fundamental attraction to this new, popular plant-based diet, which means more and more people are making the switch. If you’re wondering how much of a difference this makes, reports suggest a vegan diet can help lower blood sugar levels, decrease the risk of heart disease, prevent diseases such as diet-related cancers and type 2 diabetes, to name a few, all effects of switching to a meat-free, dairy-free diet.
The big picture
Reports suggest a global switch from meat and dairy to a plant-based diet could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds, and reduce the number of climate-related deaths by 29-71%3.
Emissions are produced by the energy used to grow food for animals, clearing land to allow them to graze, respiration and illnesses such as swine flu. The farmed animals release methane gas through their digestive process and manure that has a warming effect 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide4. The process used to break down the animals’ waste create a potent nitrous oxide emission that is 268 times more harmful than carbon dioxide, leading to a significant contribution to climate change5.
Animal agriculture is now one of the leading producers of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide with a staggering 60% contribution6.
“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car [as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the largest study to date on ‘Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers’.
According to researchers at the University of Oxford, cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%7.
Source: Poore and Nemecek, Science
So, how can you shrink your foodprint?
- Shop locally and seasonally and cut down your food miles.
- Cut down the amount of red meat you eat and replace it with proteins in the form of beans, such as tofu, soya-based products, and lentils.
- Include lots of wholegrains and vegetables in your diet so you don’t lose out on zinc and iron.
- Plan your meals and reduce food waste. Any leftovers can be reused for another tasty treat.
- Put your vegetable peelings, old bread, grains, tea/coffee, eggs shells to good use and compost them.
- Microwaves are more energy efficient than cooking on the hob or in the oven8. Using a microwave to cook when you can will not only save energy, but also money – so make the switch where you can.
- Change what you eat, whether it’s meat-free Monday or a vegan lifestyle, it’s never too late to try and the carbon footprint of a vegan or vegetarian is around half that of a meat-lover’s diet.
- Use an electric kettle to boil your cooking water and cut down the energy required to heat it on the stove.
- If you have the space, grow your own food and herbs
Changing diet doesn’t mean boring, tasteless food.
1 Veganuary.com, Environment
2 Just-eat blog, ‘Plant-based diet 2018’
3 Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food , (depending on the strength of interventions)
4 & 5 Veganuary.com, Environment (Over a 20-year timeframe)