Thu 20 Jan 2022

Veganism: As good for the environment as we think?

Each January, over 600,000 people are estimated to take on the challenge of cutting out animal products from their diet to take part in Veganuary. 2014 was the inaugural year of this annual challenge and it has gained increasing traction in terms of media attention and people taking part each year since.

In recent years, there has been a considerable increase in people adopting a vegan lifestyle. Something that was once regarded as a ‘fad’ or a ‘trend’ or ‘alternative’ has become a way of life for a significant proportion of society.

Why do people go vegan?

Those who choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle do so for a multitude of different reasons, such as the purported health benefits that are associated with a (varied and nutritious) vegan diet as well as a desire to incorporate some change into their life. However, the majority of those who adopt a vegan lifestyle generally belong to one, or both, of the following: the support of animal welfare; and to have a positive impact on the environment.

Environmentalism and the vegan lifestyle

Veganism is generally hailed as being one of the most low-impact, environmentally friendly diets that one can adopt. Vegan diets tend to have a lower water usage, ecological and carbon footprint than a diet that includes meat, fish and dairy products. By cutting down on the consumption of animal products, you are seeking to assist the reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions that are generated by animal agriculture (carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases produced by agriculture generate more emissions than transportation). There seems little doubt that poor animal agriculture has a negative impact on our environment.

Is Veganuary good for the environment?

January is not a particularly abundant month in terms of seasonal produce within the UK, particularly in relation to fruit. All year round, generally, the UK has a good selection of seasonal vegetables with January’s being the likes of cauliflower, kale, carrots and parsnips. The only generally available fruits in season within the UK in January are apples and pears. This means that if you are reaching for an avocado or a mango or a melon, these have been imported from outside of the UK. Increased air miles dramatically increase the carbon footprint that is associated with the foods we consume. To keep up with the demand of society’s more ‘exotic’ fruits and vegetables which are not grown or are out of season in the UK, we rely more on imported produce.

This consequence is even more relevant in relation to meat alternatives. It must be noted that the environmental impact associated with having a meat alternative grown and imported from overseas outweighs the environmental impact of eating a local, good quality piece of meat. By swapping the latter for the former, you would see an increase in the carbon footprint attached to your consumption.

The current narrative seems to be that to eat meat is bad for the environment and to eat a plant-based diet is good for the environment. The reality, however, is a lot more nuanced than this.

This is a message not only for January, but for all year round. A vegan diet and lifestyle is a great way to support the environment and make changes to reduce the carbon footprint of the foods and products you consume, however, only if this is done mindfully in line with seasonal produce within the UK.

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