Plant-based diets: not the cure-all for climate change

In a world full of environmental destruction where glucose-fructose rules with its sweet, sweet savour and factory farming is rampant, it is not surprising to see people shifting toward a diet that excludes animal products in the name of eco-friendliness. This movement has gained popularity, and it is now a common conception that vegetarianism and veganism is the dietary revolution that climate change activists need.

People often misunderstand what vegetarian and vegan diets entail and exclude. Vegetarians omit meat and obtain nutrients from fruits, vegetables and animal byproducts such as cheese and eggs, while vegans refrain from eating all meat and animal byproducts.

The reasons people may choose to alter their diet can vary from health issues to ethical concerns.

“I started [eating vegetarian] because I was researching the environmental impact of the agricultural industry, especially beef, [which] has huge impacts in terms of land usage and the release of methane gas,” said Anna Jamieson, a third-year Mount Allison student involved with the on-campus group Eco-Action.

Breads, beets and vitamin b-12: a vegan’s bounty. Jeff Mann/Argosy
Breads, beets and vitamin b-12: a vegan’s bounty. Jeff Mann/Argosy

Fourth-year student Kathleen Cowie began her vegetarian diet differently.

“I became a vegetarian when I was 11. My sister and I thought the easiest way to become a vegetarian was to have a competition to see who could be one [to last] the longest, and now we’re both still vegetarian,” Cowie said.

The production of animal meats and byproducts significantly contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions and the overall degradation of the planet. However, of total global greenhouse gas emissions, animal-based food production doesn’t break 20 per cent. While 20 per cent is a significant amount in million metric tons of carbon dioxide, choosing to omit meat from your diet is not the most effective way to combat climate change.

Eating a plant-based diet can allow people to live more sustainably, but a eco-friendly subsistence is fully effective only when implemented alongside other choices that combat climate-change.

“At what point are you doing it just…for a status symbol? At what point do you turn your attention to eating local?” said Cecilia Stuart, a third-year Mt. A student. “Is it really better to be vegan if you’re getting almond milk, taking B12 pills, [and] consuming nutritional yeast when you could be turning your attention to trying to find local eggs and making connections with local farmers?”

Compared to other small towns, whose limited access to local produce creates both physical and economic barriers to a more eco-friendly diet, Sackville offers residents an impressive, well-functioning farmers market every Saturday. The market allows buyers to minimize the distance their food travels (thereby decreasing additives to global emissions) and support local businesses.

“Since I moved to Sackville I definitely make a conscious effort to go to the market every week… [and]buy all my produce on Saturday, if I can,” said Katharyn Stevenson, a fourth-year Mt. A student. “I think it goes beyond being a vegetarian or a vegan, especially living in a small town. [It involves] support[ing] local farmers and growers in our own community, because a lot of people who are selling at the market each week, that is their livelihood…it adds a special relationship to the food you’re eating.”

While it is important to be passionate about food and care about what goes into your body, the ultimate way to champion a vegan or vegetarian mindset is to also be considerate of the other choices you are making. Choosing to abstain from eating animals and animal-based products does not absolve someone of their other environmental responsibilities.

The cars we drive, the plastic we use, the miles our organic avocados travel and non-divesting university we attend – all of our everyday consumer habits – must be considered if we wish to create a sustainable world and food system.

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