Eat different to save Earth?

It's like being a superhero without any superpowers

Independent

Why being vegan isn't as environmentally friendly as you might think

Deciding to become vegan is not just about the health benefits. For many, one of the driving forces behind deciding to cut out meat and dairy products is to reduce the impact on the environment. Or at least, I thought it was.

This year has seen about 150,000 people taking part in Veganuary - a month to test the waters and see if they can live without animal products.

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Should you start trying an "Earth friendly diet"?

By Joe Harker

Do you want to save the world?

Are you concerned about the environmental impacts of your lifestyle?

Ever think that decades of unsustainable levels of consumption have set our planet down a path it can't get off without drastic and swift action, thus causing irreparable damage to the only place we have capable of sustaining human life meaning our lives are going to get noticeably worse because we're a fallible and greedy species more concerned with our fleeting pleasures and desires than not killing the thing we live on?

The Claim:

If that resonated with you then you might want to try the "planetary health diet", lower amounts of meat and dairy with a lot of vegetables thrown into the mix. Nuts and legumes are a big part of the culinary offerings.

To adopt the diet would result in a massive change in lifestyle and agriculture but it has been drawn up with the intention of providing a balanced diet while being able to feed a global population of around 10 billion without causing environmental damage.

Current food demand requires intensive farming and the demand for meat and animal products causes ecological damage as so many animals are reared for the purposes of agriculture. The planetary health diet seeks to reduce animal numbers to a more sustainable level and people would have to lower their food intake accordingly.

Red meat would be the biggest ingredient dropped from the plate, with only small amounts consumed each week or month while a couple of portions of fish or white meat a week would attempt to cover for the change.

Fruit and vegetables would make up more than half of each meal, though starch filled vegetables like potatoes would be less prevalent in diets.

The Counter Claim:

However, changing eating habits is a difficult thing to do and there are hidden environmental costs involved in switching diets.

While an animal is more environmentally damaging than a vegetable one of the big impacts from farming and food is the transport. It is more eco-friendly to buy lamb from a local farm than fruit and vegetables grown on the other side of the world.

Switching over food demands is also not something that can be done instantly. Many farms would have to be given time to adapt if more people adopted the planetary health diet and it could lead to more exploitation of countries that produce much of the food.

It is an issue already facing some who have adopted a vegan diet, much of the produce they buy is international, thus causing environmental damage just to transport it from farm to plate. Increased demand for certain kinds of crops also means countries it is grown in suffer from a lack of supply.

The Facts:

Food production and consumption is a major part of building an environmentally friendly future. As the world's population is expected to rise the need for food production to increase becomes more important.

Eating less meat is widely agreed to have the biggest impact on the environmental consequences of a person's diet. The land and materials needed to rear animals and keep them for meat is high compared to farming crops. Meat requires a lot of water, fuel and land whereas fruit and vegetables tend to need less.

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