Most vegan consumer goods are sold as green products because they are supposedly good for the planet. But this is always not true as the environmental footprint of some plant-based food is significant, and many people who follow a plant-based diet are unaware of this. For example, the excessive demand for quinoa has resulted in extensive cultivation of this crop in the Andean regions of South American countries like Peru, Ecuador, and Argentina. This has resulted in the degradation of soil quality in these regions. Read on to know more about the environmental impact of the vegan diet.
Vegan Diet And Omnivore Diet
One of the main reasons people are switching to plant-based diets like veganism is because of their claimed reduced impact on the environment. But maintaining the global supply chain and availability of these products around the year has the opposite effect. This false belief is driven by scapegoating the higher amounts of greenhouse gas emissions due to global meat consumption. It devours large tracts of lands, pollutes water sources, and causes irreparable damages or over utilizes many natural resources leading to environmental damage. Above all, it is a fact that meat is a single food product that has a significant effect on climate change.
Due to the reasons stated above, the EAT-Lancet commission recommends that people across the globe must reduce the consumption of animal-based food products. As a result of the increased awareness among people of the link between global climate change and their dietary habits, many are switching to eating more plant-based foods. But anyone switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet for environmental causes must check the sustainability and impact on the environment due to the cultivation of certain foods they eat. For instance, the air transportation of perishable and seasonal food products to make them available throughout the year creates significant greenhouse gas emissions due to the burning of jet fuel by cargo aircraft.
The Transportation Of Delicate Seasonal Fruits And Vegetables
Seasonal fruits like blueberries and strawberries are imported to many European countries and the US by air when there is a gap in their local supply. Likewise, much of the asparagus is imported from Peru, and it is a vegetable with the highest carbon footprint, i.e. 5.3 kg of carbon dioxide per kilogram of asparagus. Apart from this, to meet the global demand for these fruits and vegetables, more land and water are being used. Also, off-season fruits are more expensive than their regular counterparts because of the added cost of their transportation.
So, lack of a clear understanding of the cultivation and the source of vegan consumer goods like food products will have unintended consequences. A survey conducted in Italy has shown that in some cases, vegans have significantly more environmental impact than omnivores who consume locally produced animal-based foods. For example, the increased demand for fruits, especially watermelons and cantaloupes during the summer is met by importing them from other places. This results in an increased carbon footprint due to the added demand for water, land, and excess fuel needed for their quick transportation. Having said that, on average eating meat is worse for the environment than vegan foods.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The cultivation of many off-season fruits and vegetables uses artificial fertilizers to ensure their proper growth. Surveys show that their manufacturing contributes to at least 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide and methane gases. Also, using these fertilizers in the field releases nitrous oxide which is a potent greenhouse gas. Apart from this, tilling the land also releases greenhouse gases into the environment. So, this contributes to global warming when done for the extensive cultivation of exotic crops used as food products in a vegan diet. Furthermore, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions depends on the type of crop, fruit, or vegetable that is being cultivated.
The Environmental Impact Of Different Vegan Food Products
Avocado is a popular fruit among vegans because it has one of the highest amounts of healthy fats. Apart from this, it is rich in vitamins and proteins, and hence a good alternative for those who are cutting out meat in their diet. But their cultivation has a significant environmental impact. For example, in summer a single avocado tree needs up to 56 gallons or 209 liters of water a day. This can put significant pressure on water-stressed regions like California, Southern Spain, Mexico, and Chile where it is grown.
Almonds And Cashew Nuts:
Nuts like almond and cashews are popular because they have healthy fats, proteins, and other valuable nutrients like antioxidants that protect the body from damages due to oxidative stress. Surveys show that the cultivation of nuts is one of the most water-intensive agricultural processes. It has been found from studies that growing almonds in the state of California requires 12 liters of water or 10,240 liters of water per kilogram of kernels. Furthermore, the water requirement varies according to geography.
So, if you are switching to a vegan diet for environmental reasons, you must do thorough research beforehand to know about the environmental impact of different plant-based food products.