People are drawn toward the study of veganism and sustainability for various reasons. Study, in this context, refers to a desire to know – and actually doing some research – about veganism and sustainability.
It could be that they have read something about climate change and carbon emissions, or came across material about what sustainable living is all about, or watched a documentary on conventional food systems and how they impact people’s health and the environment. Whatever the reason, veganism and sustainability are interrelated concepts that continue to gain traction.
In this article, we discuss veganism and sustainability, with the help of Kathy Divine, a notable vegan mentor, writer, and feminist, in dissecting these concepts.
Although the term “vegan” was coined only in 1944, certain forms of veganism already existed in ancient times and were practiced in India and the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Veganism is usually confused with vegetarianism, from which it originated.
There are different types of vegetarianism, such as ovo vegetarianism, Lacto vegetarianism, flexitarianism, etc. Some vegetarians still consume certain animal products (e.g., eggs for ovo vegetarians, fish for pescatarians, etc.), although most of what they consume is plant-based food.
Veganism is an extreme form of vegetarianism because vegans do not only reject meat and other animal-derived food products in their diet, but they also do not consume or buy animal by-products or anything with animal ingredients. This includes bags, shoes, and clothing, as well as medicines, personal care products, and cosmetics.
Moreover, for a product to be vegan, it should also be humanely produced and cruelty-free.
Sustainability in this context refers to environmental sustainability, where natural systems function while remaining diverse and producing all that’s needed to ensure ecological equilibrium.
However, people are aware that this ecological equilibrium or balance is all but gone. Humans are living in a rapidly deteriorating world where pollution is widespread, the animal agriculture industry continues to thrive, and fossil fuels are still being utilized.
One ray of light in this seemingly dire situation is the renewed focus on sustainability – not only in business but also in people’s way of life.
Linking veganism and sustainability
While not always obvious, veganism is considered a sustainable lifestyle option.
A purely plant-based diet can improve the ability of nations to feed more people on existing farmland because plant-based agriculture not only generates more “product” but also uses less land and costs less. In fact, research has shown that plant-based agriculture grows 512 percent more in pounds of food than animal-based agriculture, while using only 69 percent of the landmass used in the latter.
The vegan diet is also considered sustainable because cultivating plants such as fruits and vegetables produces significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and requires less energy and land use. Plants do not produce toxic methane gas and, instead, give off oxygen, which we need, and utilize carbon dioxide, which we want to have less of. It’s a win-win all the way.
Aside from the dietary aspects of veganism, being vegan means rejecting animal-derived products, which usually use up more resources to process just like their food counterparts.
Animal agriculture is inherently unsustainable because of the following:
- Animal products have a bigger environmental impact than plant products since animal food production utilizes more land for the animals and crops used to feed them, as well as water and energy.
- Animal agriculture has led to massive deforestation and land-use change, as animals need more room for breeding and growing. They also require crops like corn for food.
- Animal agriculture contributes to nitrogen pollution. Cows, for example, are fed nitrogen in the form of feed proteins, which is then excreted in their manure. Nitrogen pollution is one of the drivers of biodiversity loss, climate change, and the depletion of the ozone layer.
- Animal food production depletes freshwater resources, both during breeding and feeding, and contributes to water pollution before and during processing.
- Animal agriculture contributes immensely to global greenhouse gas emissions – a massive 5 percent– which is even higher than the emissions of the global transportation industry. Carbon-intensive processes include digging up soil to convert into food crops for animals, deforestation, and fertilizer use. Additionally, the emissions from cows in the form of methane gas cause further harm.
Choosing to reject animal-derived foods, therefore, helps the environment recover from years of degradation.
While veganism is a sustainable lifestyle alternative, there’s still room for improvement.
One thing to consider is where food is coming from. Consumerism has taught people to want fruits and vegetables even when they are not in season, simply because they’re available at the nearest supermarket.
What people must remember is that convenience and sustainability don’t always go hand in hand – which is why it’s crucial to know the origin of the produce people purchase and consume. To be truly sustainable, food must not have traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to reach you. Ideally, it should be organic or pesticide-free and ethically sourced.
One other consideration is the packaging. It’s very common to see organic food being sold in Styrofoam or plastic containers, which both contribute to environmental pollution.
See, it takes a lot to be vegan, and even more so to lead a sustainable lifestyle.
But what’s important here is that it’s possible, and anyone can do it.