Is Veganism Really What's Best for the Environment?

My friend Ruby (a hippy, crunchy, free-flowy environmental studies minor) recently went vegan.

She had made this decision as a result of a lecture or reading that she had been assigned for an environmental studies class she is taking this semester. The assignment revealed the destructive elements of the meat and dairy industries. In essence, the class scared her vegan.

Embarking on her vegan voyage, Ruby enlisted a few of her friends to join her in solidarity. When I consented to my vegan fate, she asked for my "why"—why are you going vegan? What is your motivation?

On the spot, I answered, "the environment."

I became a vegetarian five years ago because the idea of eating cute little animals made me sad. However, I knew that there were many environmental benefits in reducing meat intake as well, and I figured that veganism would have a similar effect.

As the veganism wore on (this feels like as appropriate a spot as any to disclose that I made it less than twenty-four hours), I started to wonder if this was a worthy enough "why." I did some research into whether or not veganism had the environmental impact that I thought it did.

And it does! Kind of.

I started to look into greenhouse gas emissions across food supply. In doing this, I saw that many foods that vegans do not consume (i.e. beef, lamb and dairy) have the highest carbon footprint. However, there are many foods that are "okay" by vegan standards that aren't great for the environment either. Coffee and palm oil, for example, both have a higher carbon footprint than eggs.

The thing about veganism is, it cuts out a lot of foods that produce a really high carbon footprint. However, it doesn't cut out all of them. While the average vegan has a lower impact on the environment than your average omnivore, it is possible for individual cases to demonstrate a higher impact even within the vegan menu.

A study was done in Italy on two vegans who managed to have a much higher carbon footprint than most meat-eaters as a result of the quantity of fruit that they were consuming, and because of where in the world that fruit was coming from.

Granted, reducing or eliminating meat and dairy from one's diet can have monumental impacts. The Culinary Schools cite that if every American dropped one serving of chicken per week, it would be the equivalent of taking 500,000 cars off the road. Additionally, the resources that the meat industry alone utilizes is astounding: a singular pig used for pork production drinks 21 gallons of water a day, and eats tens of millions of tons of feed per year.

I did share all of this information with Ruby, and she saw her veganism trial out till the end. While I did not stand with her in solidarity, I have cut out coffee and am trying to cut out dairy as well to reduce my own carbon footprint.

Anyone who is looking to do the same may consider veganism, or might also consider evaluating individual food choices instead of making a complete dietary switch with further research and resources such as carbon footprint calculators!