While vegans claim they’re saving the world, Omnis say they do the opposite. Read on to see whether veganism really is the most sustainable diet.

Veganism has managed to polarise most of society (quite impressive really), and whether you think it’s a fad or a revolution, there’s no denying its popularity. Figures suggest that there are now over 600,000 vegans in the UK alone, an increase of 300% since 2014!

Like I said, quite impressive. 

A record 700,000 people signed up for Veganuary this year, with ‘the environment’ being one of the top three reasons for giving veganism a go. But just how environmentally friendly is the vegan diet?

Well yet again, veganism has managed to polarise…

 But this time it’s polarised the agriculture and farming sector. 

The meat and dairy sector currently account for a whopping 11.2% of manmade greenhouse gas emissions, but UN experts say the world’s food-related emissions would drop 68% within 15 years if we all went vegan. Now this is a pretty unrealistic goal, but certainly shows the impact non-vegan products have on the environment.  Other studies even show a reduction in emissions per person of 20-30% by halving meat consumption. 

Does having lower carbon emissions actually equal being more sustainable though?

Matthew Harrison, systems modelling team leader at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, says: “Emissions are often viewed as the only metric of sustainability: they are not.

“When considering sustainability, impacts of farming systems on carbon sequestration, soil acidification, water quality, and broader ecosystem services also need to be well considered.” 

This is interesting to remember when it comes to veganism, a diet where plant-based meat and dairy alternatives are steadily on the rise. 

In fact, it takes 74 litres of water to bring your glass of almond milk to your table- more than a typical shower! Avocados are another thirsty ingredient much loved by vegans- with some experts suggesting 227 litres of water are needed to grow a single avocado

Mara Carraro, co-ordinator at the Sustainable Food Places campaign, told Behind the Bite why it’s so hard to label a vegan diet or ingredient as being more sustainable than another. 

She said: “This is a meaty topic (for lack of a better word). It’s very context dependent on where your food is coming from. Being in a temperate climate like the UK, veganism is a lot more complicated because many of the ingredients you would replace animal products with dont necessarily come from here. 

“This isn’t inherently bad, and there are a lot of arguments about the fact transportation of those ingredients is negligible when you consider the overall carbon footprint impact.

But it’s not just about carbon footprint; we need to consider the socio-economic impact of the ingredients too.”

Veganism as a concept is undoubtedly sustainable, but when we throw plant-based milk, dairy-free alternatives and synthetic meats into the mix, its footprint is made significantly bigger.

The truth is, veganism has its flaws. Reducing meat and dairy intake is good but it is still important to be mindful of buying locally too; not only to support the environment but your local farmers! 

While it’s important to remember that sustainability is not measured by carbon emissions, it’s a pretty good starting point for a sustainable lifestyle, and veganism, albeit not perfect, is still highly regarded as the most sustainable diet.