Current research shows that our present diets and agricultural practices are environmentally damaging; degrading our ecosystems, depleting water resources and contributing to climate breakdown. In fact, global food systems contribute to 23% of greenhouse gas emissions, over half of which come directly from livestock production.
It’s clear that to avoid climate breakdown we need to change what and how we eat.
But what does a more climate-friendly diet look like?
According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), one of the best ways to achieve the 1.5C target outlined in the Paris Agreement is a plant-based diet. Moving from a meat-intensive diet to one which excludes animal products, would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from food by 49%.
On the other side of the debate, many advocate for locally produced seasonal produce, as transporting food across the world is carbon-intensive and contributes to over 10% of food emissions. Although eating and shopping local is a great way to reduce emissions from transportation, plant-based foods are still more beneficial for planet earth with smaller carbon footprints.
In comparison, meats like Beef and Lamb have particularly large climate footprints, emitting 17.7kg and 9.9kg of CO2 for 50 grams of protein, while plant-based protein sources like peas and nuts emit only 1kg and 0.1kg of CO2* for the same nutritional value.
*this includes transportation emissions
However, this black and white approach fails to address nuance in the veganism debate; although eating plant-based has a smaller environmental impact it also requires privilege and is not accessible for everyone. One way to define this is by using the term ‘food apartheid’, which describes where residents have limited access to affordable healthy food options. With grocery stores in a neighbourhood based on socioeconomic status, not everyone can access luxury vegan ‘mock’ meats or even basic vegan staples from their local store. In the US, these areas are found much more commonly in BIPOC neighbourhoods, where white neighbourhoods contain four times as many supermarkets.
The mainstream vegan movement is also overwhelmingly white and inaccessible to several communities, despite veganism at its core, is deeply rooted in BIPOC cultural experiences. Before we prescribe a universal vegan diet for the entire planet we need to acknowledge how modern-day veganism is a function of privilege embedded in colonial food systems.
To add a conclusion, it is fair to say that the veganism debate is far more nuanced than often described.
This is not a black and white issue.
While limiting meat and dairy intake for those with the ability to is crucial to lowering emissions, we must also address the systems which have made veganism a privilege.
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WWF. (2020). Unsustainable Cattle Ranching.
Veganuary. (2020). Who we are.