Veganism has taken the U.S. by storm, with nearly every restaurant having at least one vegan option on their menu and most grocery stores in major cities having multiple meat and dairy alternatives. To those of you who are not familiar with veganism, veganism is the dietary practice where food derived from animals is avoided. This includes eggs, milk and honey.
A slightly looser dietary practice is vegetarianism. With this lifestyle choice, individuals consume dairy and sometimes eggs since eggs are not considered to be made of animal flesh. The term veganism was coined in 1944 and can be traced back to ancient India and eastern Mediterranean societies. While there has been a history of vegetarianism in the U.S., there has only been a recent influx in veganism in the past decade.
Undoubtedly, veganism has a lot of benefits for one’s health as well as the environment. Due to the phytochemicals and antioxidants contained in most vegetables and fruits, a vegan diet is incredibly beneficial. Namely, a vegan diet can help prevent certain cancers and type two diabetes.
These results are not unusual — many individuals have claimed that going on a vegan diet has decreased the severity of the symptoms of most of their health issues, especially pertaining to cardiovascular disease.
Secondly, vegans have a significantly lower ecological footprint than their meat-eating counterparts. The meat and dairy industries account for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gasses each year. This is due to the methane gas emitted by cattle and the large amount of land usage required to raise them.
Considering the Earth’s constant rise in population, one cannot expect this number to reduce anytime soon unless action is taken. India, one of the lowest consumers of red meat, is a country with one of the lightest ecological footprints per person.
In today’s social media-driven society, we constantly see celebrities and influencers preach about and promote the vegan lifestyle. We also see many animal rights activists shame meat and dairy consumers for their decisions, which is a huge reason why there is a relatively large amount of backlash against the veganism movement currently.
Unfortunately, veganism isn’t accessible to everyone. Fresh produce, non-dairy milk and meat alternatives are not affordable to many individuals, and rural communities do not have access to these food options in their local grocery stores. Many may argue that with sufficient budgeting and meal prepping that this lifestyle is attainable, but not everyone has the time to do so (especially larger families that require both parents to work long hours).
Another critique of the veganism movement is the lack of intersectionality that exists within a lot of the conversations held by major vegan organizations. In many cultures, meat holds significance, and sustainability is practiced. For example, Native Americans are respectful in their hunting practices. Hunting and fishing were only done to protect and sustain their families and animal waste was kept at a minimum as they utilized most of the animal including their fur.
Additionally, meat was not consumed on a regular basis and was rather eaten during special occasions. Many Indigenous people today still practice safe hunting practices to preserve their culture, therefore many of the extreme conversations surrounding veganism today are slightly culturally insensitive.
After acknowledging a few of the advantages and disadvantages to veganism, it is clear that the issue is not dichotomous. The environmental and health benefits of veganism are clear, but it is not realistic to force individuals to become vegan overnight.
Plus, many groups of people such as the Hindu and Mediterranean communities already consume very minimal amounts of red meat (which is the type of meat that has the highest ecological footprint).
Therefore, the best solution is to educate individuals on the benefits and risks of meat while also making vegan options more sustainable. This will not only take the effort of the general public but will also require government intervention as well. The EU “farm to fork” plan is a solid example of a reasonable and attainable shift to making plant-based diets more accessible.
Avantika Raman is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in biology and minoring in psychology and statistics. Her column runs on alternative Thursdays.
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