Veganuary - it's all so complicated

Veganuary - a chance to try vegan options

As we have moved into January, there are many people who are trying out a plant-based diet for Veganuary.

And the reasons cited may be many and various with some saying they are doing it to make a difference to climate change and limit their individual impact on the world.

Others base their decision on animal welfare issues, saying that farming methods do not favour animals when it comes to producing dairy and meat products.

And there are those who choose veganism for dietary reasons, having found that different elements of a mixed diet of meat and vegetables does not suit them.

Choosing a vegan diet can have its own implications if you look at the arguments on both sides. Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash

An easy decision?

But as with anything, nothing is that straightforward.

And of course, when it comes to making any decision, it’s important to consider the various arguments.

A recent study by researchers at Oxford University suggested that eating a vegan diet could be the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your environmental impact on the planet.

According to a report in the Independent about the study, it said taking up a plant-based diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to 73 per cent.

It also said that the global use of farmland could be cut by 75 per cent if the world’s population became vegans. This would have obvious benefits for wildlife being able to reclaim the land and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But in an article by The Herald, in Scotland, it questions whether this has all the benefits it suggests. It quotes a piece published in the British Medical Journal by Dr Emma Derbyshire, of Nutritional Insight, who says that a plant-based diet can have important deficiencies, such as a ‘brain-nourishing chemical’ called choline. This has important properties for infant development in an expectant mother.

On the other hand, in the Herald article, the Vegan Society say Dr Derbyshire has links to the meat industry and overstates the benefits of choline. So, once again, it raises questions.

The Herald article also suggests that vegan alternatives, such as avocadoes, almond milk and quinoa can all have detrimental effects on the environment – both economic and natural.

It suggests that growing demand for avocadoes and quinoa mean that prices have risen to the extent that there are indigenous people in the areas where these products are grown that can no longer afford what was once a staple part of their diet.

And when it comes to almond milk, the article suggests it takes up to 6,000 litres of water to produce one litre on almond milk, in areas where water supplies can be limited and in countries that require thousands of air miles to be flown to get the almond milk to the UK market – to be sold in cartons that can be difficult to recycle.

Veganuary offers the chance to consider all sides of the argument. Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Changes in society

In days gone by, the proportion of the household budget spent on food was much higher, but as living standards have risen, so the proportion spent on food has gone down, meaning those in food production have had to cut costs to try to maintain their livelihoods by ensuring their products remain competitive, and therefore intensifying farming practices.

But there is an alternative and that is to reduce the volumes you eat (obesity has been rising in the western world) but aim to have good quality, locally sourced food. If the intake is reduced but the quality increased, so you can continue to enjoy your diet, while not having to adjust your budget.

If the food has shorter distances to travel, so the costs involved are lower, which improves the margins for the producer.

And that can reduce your personal impact on the environment as well.

It's important to weigh up the arguments before deciding. Photo by Pau Casals on Unsplash

Weighing up the options

So, we’ll finish where we started by saying it’s important to weigh up all the different arguments before drawing your own conclusions, but as with many things, it is complicated. 

Further reading

To read the article in The Independent, click here.

To read The Herald in Scotland's piece on the same subject, click here.

To read more from the Vegan Society, click here.

To see the product lines from Swizzle and Friends, click here.



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