In case you weren’t quite sure what the difference is between a vegan and a vegetarian, vegans take the no fish, no poultry, no meat, one big step further and strike out all animal products. This means, no eggs, no dairy products, no animal-derived products and can extend to excluding nutriments that are processed with animal products such as refined sugar.
[Yes, most sugar that you see in the supermarket, white or brown is refined using animal bone char, typically cattle bone char. But, this is not to say that all sugars are refined in this manner, it will depend on the type of sugar you choose and the company producing it; try organic cane sugar for a bone-char-free sugar. ]
Why the rush towards animal-free-products?
From an eco-conscious point of view, one of the main indicators we would be concerned with is the carbon footprint of our diets.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) found that global greenhouse gas emissions from livestock are 7.1 Gigatons CO2equivalent per year. This represents 14.5% of total anthropogenic emissions, with cattle being responsible for the biggest proportion of emissions (i.e. cattle raised for beef meat and milk as well as inedible outputs such as manure for fertilizing and draft power). The emissions that result from activities around livestock include the large amount of land use required - leading to deforestation and increased greenhouse gas emissions - the amount of fuel consumed along the supply chain, as well as the emissions intensity of the livestock itself; ruminant flatulence (medical term for fart)...
Besides the greenhouse gas emissions involved, the activities around livestock also require a large amount of water use (almost 10% of global human water use) and are responsible for a large part of our planet’s water pollution.
It’s not to say that only food from cows, pigs and poultry emit greenhouse gases, seafood also contributes to our anthropogenic emissions… but, seafood contributes a lot less. The carbon footprint of certain wild seafood, such as tiger prawns from Australia or lobster from the Norwegian North Sea, that are exported to countries all over the world, have the same carbon footprint as farmed chicken, salmon and trout, mostly due to the fuel cost involved in transporting these across the globe, as well as the energy consumed to preserve these produce along the way. However, the carbon footprint of most fuel consuming wild seafood only equates to 2 kg of CO2equivalent per kg of seafood landed as opposed to 10 kg of CO2equivalent per kg of beef.
Does this mean that eliminating meat and animal products from your diet is always better for the environment?
No! Not necessarily…
A study conducted by French academics and published in Elsevier’s Ecological Economics journal found that when comparing two diets with the same calorific value, replacing the calorific intake obtained from a large quantity of meat with the equivalent calorific value from fruits and vegetables and 50g of meat per day, actually increases the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with the diet. According to this study, this is due to the fact that 426g of fruits and vegetables needed to be added in order to replace the calorific value of 46g of meat.
Hence, although meat production does contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions, actually reducing these emissions will depend on what you decide to consume instead of the meat.
A study conducted by academics at Kingston University, London looked at the difference in carbon footprint of a handful of locally grown fruits & veg (apples, cherries, strawberries, garlic and peas) compared with the same ones imported from non-EU countries and showed that the same non-EU fruits & veg result in 10kg CO2equivalent more emissions than those locally produced and supplied.
Take home message
The fact is that for a number of reasons the way that livestock is handled nowadays has become increasingly detrimental to our environment. But, making sure that you choose your products carefully, such as organic meat instead of non-organic meat, can really make a difference. Non-organic meats typically contain additives, antibiotics and hormones, things that you don’t necessarily want in your body and elements that contribute to water pollution.
We are not saying that you should cut meat out of your diet as a whole – it is a great source of protein and has a high calorific value – but reducing your consumption of it can be both beneficial for your health (less saturated fat) and better for our environment.
There are also a lot of plant-based alternatives for protein such as lentils, chickpeas, tofu and many more! And don’t forget to try your best to buy seasonal and local fruit & veg.
Check out a really yummy recipe for a vegan, sugar-free meal by Deliciously Ella– great for dinner parties ;)
Here is what it looked like when I tried to make it myself (added raisins for a sweet & savory twist) topped with coriander with a side of basmati rice (Persian style)!