We are just 17 days into the New Year 2020 and it has been quite eventful so far, an escalated tension between nations of the world, leading the masses to believe in a likely World War Three situation; a massive raging bush fire in the Australian sub-continent, an erroneous shooting down of a passenger plane, an uprising of people against their unjust government laws in various parts of the world, and the latest one being the eruption of the Taal Volcano in island of Philippines.
All these events may have left us feeling quite overwhelmed, and even wondering if the end of world is near. Well that, I have no say on. None of us can say if the end is near, but yes, the planet is in quite a bad state undeniably, and it is upon us to leave it a better place for the generations coming after us.
On that note, I would like to draw your attention to this lifestyle that has strongly emerged in the past few years and has gained a lot of popularity on mainstream media and social media alike. Veganism!
Before we dive any deeper, first, let us shed some light on what is veganism. The Wikipedia definition – “Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.[b] A follower of the diet or the philosophy is known as a vegan “.
Veganism began as a movement to avoid treating animals as commodity, and as a movement towards sustainable living, to reduce environment impact from consumption of animal products, and gradually move to plant based products only.
A study published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) stated that Imbalanced diets, such as diets low in fruits and vegetables, and high in red and processed meat, are responsible for the greatest health burden globally and in most regions. At the same time, the food system is also responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore a major driver of climate change.
Below is a link to that study – https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/03/16/1523119113.abstract
However, it probably is just a summarized version of the full study. The very first statement in the study states – The food system is responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is not being shown how exactly this percentage is arrived at.
Let me now shed some light on data from EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) on Greenhouse Gas Emissions. (Please note there is also a disclaimer at the top of the website that says – “THIS IS AN OFFICAL WEBSITE OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT).
Here is a link to that data article – https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data
Below is also a chart from the EPA website that depicts the top contributing sectors to Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
- Carbon dioxide (CO2): Fossil fuel use is the primary source of CO2. CO2can also be emitted from direct human-induced impacts on forestry and other land use, such as through deforestation, land clearing for agriculture, and degradation of soils. Likewise, land can also remove CO2 from the atmosphere through reforestation, improvement of soils, and other activities.
- Methane (CH4): Agricultural activities, waste management, energy use, and biomass burning all contribute to CH4emissions.
- Nitrous oxide (N2O): Agricultural activities, such as fertilizer use, are the primary source of N2O emissions. Fossil fuel combustion also generates N2O.
- Fluorinated gases (F-gases): Industrial processes, refrigeration, and the use of a variety of consumer products contribute to emissions of F-gases, which include hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).
Therefore, it may be true that, more than a quarter (25%), of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food systems. However, the words “food systems” are quite vague and the composition thereunder is quite vast. It is important that we realize that food systems not only mean animal husbandry. Food systems also comprise of crop plantations, the way we use land for farming, land and resources to grow crops and raise livestock, the transportation of food from producers to consumers, the fertilizers used for farming, the food storage system – all of this put together comprises the food system.
Thus, the derivation that veganism will cut down a significant percentage of greenhouse gas emissions is quite wrong. In fact, veganism and the increased demand for vegan crops will only lead to more and more agricultural deforestations, for the cultivation of these crops.
Below is an image from ECI (Environmental Change Institute – University of Oxford) showing Green House Gas (GHS) Emissions by Global Food systems, which depict that it is not just livestock farming resulting in GHS emissions, but a plethora of other processes put together.
Here are two links you could check to see how veganism is not as environment friendly as you think it is – https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/veganism-environment-veganuary-friendly-food-diet-damage-hodmedods-protein-crops-jack-monroe-a8177541.html
Therefore, it is a misconception that going vegan will reduce environmental impact largely. For all you know, veganism and its demands only will lead to more and more agricultural deforestation and the carbon footprint of the supply chain involved in the food industry is quite substantial.
The optimum food habits would be to procure and source food locally, thereby reducing the need for long distance transportation of food. It is very understandable if one’s motive behind becoming vegan is to avoid animal cruelty. In such a case too, instead of opting for an avocado from the other side of the world, or a tropical vegetable from 3000 to 5000 kilometers away, it is best if one can source locally, or an even better option would be to grow your own veggies locally.
Before turning vegan to reduce one’s environmental impact, it is better to equip oneself with the correct knowledge and proper facts and try to find out as much as possible the origin of the food landing on our plates.
Let us all be meaningfully sustainable, and not driven by absolutely vague global gimmicks 🙂