Een vegan dieet kan nog duurzamer zijn

Scientists all over the world agreed that one major way we can reduce our carbon footprint is by eating less meat and dairy products, but the issue is not so simple. A person who follows a vegan diet in fact produces 50 percent less CO2 compared to a meat eater. Many people started to replace meat, eating more vegetables and fruits or introducing in their diet meat substitutes. But don’t they have a burden on the environment? Land use change, production, transportation and retail contribute to the repercussions of food on the Earth system; carbon emissions are made up not only of greenhouse gas emissions produced by growing and farming, but also the ones generated from the processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food we eat. 

As a Global Sustainability Science student following the course “Politics of the Earth” at Utrecht University, I am extremely interested in the way people perceive sustainability and the consequent choices they take in their daily life. Nowadays there are more than enough instruments to be informed before choosing what to eat, but nevertheless people often choose the easy way. Thus the dilemma, it is much better for the environment and for human health to eat vegan organic food, but what are the real consequences if that food comes all the way from Mexico or Brazil? 

A study conducted by Carbon Footprint Ltd claims that a pack of two avocados has a footprint of 846.36g CO2, almost twice the size of one kilogram of bananas (480g). It has been estimated that to grow one avocado, from 140 to 272 litres of water are needed. While avocados have become increasingly popular recently due to their health benefits, in some areas, such as Peru and Chile, the growing demand for the crop has led to illegal extraction from rivers and it is contributing to an increasing water-shortage crisis. In addition to that, avocados have to be flown thousands of kilometers to reach Europe and they are often wrapped in protective plastic packaging. Another popular food for vegans and vegetarians is tofu: it has been discovered that made with soy cultivated in Brazil it will likely have double the carbon footprint of chicken. 

Being vegan is not enough if we don’t buy local and seasonal food, on the contrary just following the trend of popular vegan cuisine can be even more harmful for the environment. As stated by Joseph Poore, a researcher at the University of Oxford, it is necessary to be conscious about everything we consume: air-transported fruit and vegetables can create more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram than poultry meat, for example. 

“Don't think too much, you'll create a problem that was never there”, said Sukhraj S. Dhillon; in this case though I invite you to think. The era of following the masses without reflecting is now ended. Grocery shopping is no longer something that we can do without making decisions about the Earth’s future. The complex world in which we live requires that we take care about what we choose to replace meat with. We should care about the stories behind the food we eat.