According to scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis of the damage farming does to the planet, avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact.
Here we decode veganism and address the main concerns around going vegan.
A plate without meat?
For much of the Western world, it’s difficult to envisage a mealtime without meat.
Overcoming this culturally ingrained hurdle and finding tasty and convenient solutions is one of the toughest tests to going vegan. Fear not, the world wide web has an infinite number of recipes for the novice to the master chef, as well as nutritional advice and FAQs.
The Protein Question
Being asked "Where do you get your protein?" is the bane of all vegetarians and vegans' lives.
In fact, compared to other mammals, humans are naturally adapted for a comparatively low protein intake, requiring just 10% of our daily calorie intake. This amasses to 50 – 60 grams for an average person, yet the UK’s National Diet and Nutritional Survey found we are eating considerably more at 75-100 grams.
As a vegan, it’s very easy to source 60 grams of protein from oats, nuts, beans, wholegrains, lentils, chick peas, green peas, brown rice, quinoa and tofu to name just a few.
Vitamin & Mineral Deficiencies
Vitamin B12 (essential for cell production), Selenium (an antioxidant to fight disease), Iodine (important for the metabolism and healthy functioning of the thyroid gland) and Zinc (vital for a strong immune system) are vitamins and minerals that vegans are more prone to be deficient in.
However, a regular intake of leafy greens, wholegrains (barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, rye, cous-cous, millet) and yeast extract for B12, will easily keep you in check. There are also some cool supplements out there designed specifically for vegans such as Athletic Greens, which is a daily all in one supplement with 75 proven, whole food sourced ingredients.
A lack of energy?
I regularly compete in ultra marathons, recently completing 170km mountain ultra eating just brown rice/nori balls and homemade flapjacks. A well-balanced vegan diet with daily wholegrains and legumes will not leave you feeling lethargic. In fact, many vegan athletes will say they have more energy since adopting a plant-based diet.
For more insight and inspiration, watch The Game Changers. It is a 2018 documentary film about the benefits of plant-based eating for athletes. The documentary follows former UFC fighter James Wilks who, while recovering from an injury, travels the world and talks with elite athletes who follow plant-based diets. Athletes include Novak Djokovic, Lewis Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Patrik Baboumian, and Dotsie Bausch.
Going Vegan and Climate Change
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and contributes to 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions. – The stats speak for themselves!
If you are in doubt about how much impact going vegan could have on the environment, then take heed from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In their 2019 report on Land Use, the Panel’s 107 scientists concluded that dietary choices can play a major role in the adaptation and mitigation of Climate Change. The report states “the largest potential for reducing AFOLU (agriculture, forestry and other land use) emissions are through reduced deforestation and forest degradation, a shift towards plant-based diets and reduced food and agriculture waste.”
To give you an idea of the distinct differences in food-related emissions, a portion of the highest-impact vegetable proteins emits less than the lowest-impact animal proteins. With animal agriculture being the leading cause of deforestation, more people adopting a vegan diet would mean using less land but getting more out of it.
The scale of the challenge is on a global level, although until policymakers implement change, you can empower yourself to combat climate change immediately by consciously choosing what you eat every day. There’s plenty of power on your plate!
If you’re able to kick the habit by going vegan, you’ll significantly lower your carbon footprint while helping preserve the environment. However, if veganism is still a step too far, consider a Flexitarian or Pescatarian Diet.
Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on EarthThe Guardian, 2018
Going Vegan Tips
Sources & further reading
- “Evaluating the environmental impact of various dietary patterns combined with different food production systems” - nature.com
- “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers” - sciencemag.org
- ““Livestock’s Long Shadow”” - fao.org
- “Are you eating too much protein? Some sources aren’t as healthy as you think” - theguardian.com
- “National Diet and Nutrition Survey” - gov.uk
- “Special Report on Climate Change and Land” - IPCC
- “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers” - Science Org
- “Being Vegan” - Mossy Earth