Why a vegan diet is better for the environment

People choose to be pescetarian, vegetarian, vegan and everything in between for a whole range of personal reasons, ranging from the ethics of slaughtering animals for meat, to just not liking the taste.

Veganism as a lifestyle goes further than most simple dietary restrictions, as when done to the truest meaning of the word, it also means not wearing clothing made from animal-derived fabrics, avoiding leather shoes, and generally removing all other animal-origin products from your life.

With careful management, you can still get a nutritionally balanced diet this way, you don’t have to worry about the welfare of farm animals or those used in cosmetics testing and so on – and generally speaking, it’s considered to be better for the environment too.

But there’s no one silver bullet when it comes to being eco-friendly, so just what are veganism’s environmental credentials, and how well do they stack up?

Resource efficiency

One of the big benefits is that a vegan diet supposedly uses less resources. That includes food, water and physical space.

It’s ironic that in order to farm livestock, we have to feed them – and because of this, it means the food value of a meat-based diet is less efficient than that of a vegan diet. Put simply, a vegan diet can produce more food per square metre of land.

As the global population continues to grow, especially in densely populated countries, meat makes less sense from a purely sustainable point of view.

Water waste is reduced via veganism too. The Vegan Society says 1kg of potatoes can take just 250 litres of water, while 1kg of tomatoes needs 180 litres to grow – compared with 15,500 litres for 1kg of beef.

On both counts, veganism reduces usage by about two thirds on average – that’s two thirds less water used to produce equivalent food, and two thirds less land area needed too.

Do it for the trees

It’s not a directly visible effect in the UK, but internationally when more land is needed for agriculture, it often leads to deforestation – especially in countries like Brazil.

Again, statistics from The Vegan Society show that well over five million acres of Brazilian land is used to grow soya beans, which are in turn used in animal feed in European agriculture.

When trees are felled to make room to grow these crops, it destroys the habitats of native animal species and can even accelerate species extinction – and in another cruel irony, it can discourage farmers from growing crops suitable for human consumption, which actually reduces local food security.

Of course your choice of diet is not an overnight panacea for all the world’s environmental problems, but The Vegan Society suggests it is a good place to start.

Its website states: “If we are trying to reduce our car use, limit the amount of water we waste, become more energy-efficient and generally lessen our environmental impact, we must also examine the most important factor of our personal ecological footprint: what we eat.”