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Sustainable Eating Is A Myth | Becoming Vegan Or Vegetarian Will Not Save Our Planet

Updated: Oct 2, 2022

Sustainable Eating Is A Myth

Last night, my friends decided to hold a small get-together in a coffee shop. In this expeditious hustle of the city, we were nostalgic for the post-pandemic times, when we used to meet at least once a week. As we reached with our glittering smiles, the whole coffee place reflected our energy due to our enormously large group. It wasn't long before the unabridged table stocked itself with lattes, mochas, and frappes. But there was a difference this time, with the preferences as some converted to vegan due to ethical issues. We had a long discussion on vegan choices as sustainable eating over any other diet. I didn't stand on any of the sides of whether consuming them can bring good or not. It was then I decided to get another article on whether sustainable eating can omit all the harmful hazards to the environment. Here in this article, I have covered you from the ethical side of the vegan versus vegetarian diet so that we can compare effectively and then choose the best. I am not covering the omnivore diet since there is a confusion between vegan diets and vegetarian diets. We have already learned about plant-based milk nutrition in our previous article. Now it is crucial time to get to the roots explaining why veganism started.

To understand, we will examine the following factors:

Expand to read the points.

Types Of Vegans and Vegetarians Focusing on the Carbon Emission Chart Which Diet Vegan Versus Vegetarian Is Appropriate Ethically? Is Omitting Dairy A Solution? Is Veganism Sustainable?

Types Of Vegans And Vegetarians.

Different types of vegans and vegetarians

Understanding the 12 classes of vegans and vegetarians is imperative, as the terminology frequently confuses us. Perhaps you've heard of numerous people with different diets who follow a similar category. And this is because, at present, it has the following sub-categories, which may differ in the future as more of them counts in! So without wasting the next second, let us explore all of them-

Ethical Vegans.

These abstain from all animal suffering activities. Not only their diet includes animal-free products, but also their lifestyle does. They do not consume leather or wool and even avoid animal riding or various shows like dolphin shows or circuses where animal cruelty catches sight. They consider themselves s a follower of sustainable eating.

Environmental Vegan.

They think about minimizing the damage caused by human activities to the environment. They consume extra plant-based foods and avoid meat or dairy due to ethical concerns. Some grow their food and use bicycles to save the planet from the ill effects of human activities.

Dietary Vegans.

They exclude animal-related products like milk, eggs, or meat due to their health consciousness. They do not abstain from the use of wool or leather. In a nutshell, they consume plant-based food to avoid cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and other health risks. The term sustainable eating is exaggerated in dietary veganism.

Raw Vegans.

It is the most entertaining category where vegans consume only raw food like fruits or vegetables. Some of them consume underdone dietary till 4 PM and then have cooked food. They believe that it improves gut health and absorbs more vitamins and nutrition.

Religious Vegans.

From the early ancient Indian scriptures, it is visible that Jainism does not promote animal cruelty in food like meat, eggs, or even vegetables like potatoes, onions, and garlic to avoid injury to those little creatures. Though they consume milk cow milk in India is considered divine. After calves have been fed enough and born naturally, people devour cow milk. It is the concept of earlier South-India Vaishnism. Alongside, Buddhism and Rastafarian also fall under the same category.


These vegans do not consume mammal products such as dairy and abstain from meat. However, they consume animals like oysters and bivalves because they believe they cannot feel and do not deserve ethical considerations, unlike mammals.


Vegetarians do not consume meat, fish, or poultry in their diets but have dairy and eggs. They consume fruits, vegetables, milk, and eggs, and it may be because of the sustainability of the environment, ethical concerns, and personal health.


As the name suggests, Lacto connects itself to milk; Lacto-vegetarians are people who do not consume meat, fish, poultry, and eggs but consume dairy products. It may be because of health concerns.


They are sometimes referred to as eggetarians. They may eat honey, all plant-based proteins, and eggs but do not consume meat, fish, or dairy products. They may eat eggs simply because of their taste!


The Pescatarian eats primarily fish and seafood. Pescatarians are not vegetarians, but they do not consume any red or white meats.


They usually restrict meat, fish, or seafood from their diet but allow animal products. They do not have animal welfare motives but instead their own health concerns.


A flexitarian generally follows an almost entirely plant-based diet with the occasional meat item on the menu. This group tries to limit meat intake and have a plant-based diet to the greatest extent possible.

Now that we have learned about each sub-category, it is time to learn more about our article. Let us first understand the carbon emission chart for a better glance.

Focusing On The Carbon Emission Chart.

Carbon Emission is the trapping of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere that contributes directly to severe problems like climate change, global warming, rising sea levels, and many more. Before we come to the carbon emission chart discussing the contribution by the food and dairy industry, let us see the countries that are highly flaming fires in the chart.

When we compare the charts, the lowest per capita carbon emission in the top 20 of these carbon emission countries is India. China, being a developing country, emits tonnes of CO2 every year per capita, while on the top, we find developed countries, with Canada as the highest CO2 emitter per capita. These are more focused on the industrial and startup economy. Checking on previous graphs also suggests that till the 1960s, there were no crucial carbon emissions from the developing economies. Is it a sign that developed economies are responsible for climate change today? And if you read this article on which country has a sustainable future, you will know more insights on even the Paris Agreement Goals!

Total U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 1990-2020
Total U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 1990-2020

Now, let us move on to the causes of these CO2 emissions through a chart to understand them better. When comparing the USA, it shows that the highest CO2 emitter cause is transportation followed by industry and electricity whereas, only 11% comes from agriculture and livestock. When I checked the tree plantation in the same, it suggested that if 60 Billion trees are to be planted in the USA alone, 540 million tonnes of CO2 can disburse, which is equal to the US agriculture sector emission of 1 year. But we see there was none such under President Biden!

Total U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sector in 2020
Total U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sector in 2020

Coming on our article, let us differentiate how much our agriculture and industry emits CO2?

The percentage of emissions from agriculture is astonishingly close to 13 percent of the world's total. These have a variety of factors, as you see in the picture below. It is not only increasing these emissions but also responsible for forest cover losses. If there is only agriculture and no dairy, everyone's diet will totally fall on it. And 70% of nitrogen runoff will choke water and streams. In addition, we will use 40% of our freshwater for food production. The soil fertility will decrease over time without organic manures, and the whole propaganda of eating clean or sustainable eating is a flop! Even using nuclear techniques for greater crop yield needs at least soil.

Farming Emission and sources
Farming Emission and sources

Forest cover loss due to Agriculture
Forest cover loss due to Agriculture

Which Diet Vegan Versus Vegetarian Is Appropriate Ethically?

We already had discussed the long list of types of vegans and vegetarians. Let us see their impact on our bodies and the environment. But we are not checking only based on carbon emissions but also water consumption and ecological footprint.

Also, we are not considering the nutrition and health status here as I have compiled the dairy nutrition part here in this article.

The dietary pattern of the ovo-Lacto vegetarian and the vegans are somehow adherents to the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is more susceptible to nutritionally rich and environmentally advantageous as it includes a plant-based diet. We also consider the factor of- Food Chain here for overall results. With this excellent scholarly research paper, we conclude on the following points on mythical sustainable eating-

  • When comparing with actual scenarios rather than virtual, vegan diets were no less associated with less environmental carbon footprints than vegetarian diets. It may be because of the replacement of the dairy products with the ultra-processed plant-based meat and dairy substitutes. I have previously raised that these ultra-processed vegan foods are even harmful to health in this article.

  • There is a lower energy density of plant-based foodstuffs in vegan, which result in higher consumption (around 12.% in terms of food weight) compared to the vegetarian diet.

  • The carbon footprint of each person varies according to geographical conditions. Further, it also depends on individual choice, gender, and household structure.

  • In fewer cases, vegans and vegetarians; both have a higher environmental negative impact than omnivores due to their different energy intakes.

  • There are not many differences between their consumption due to different carbon emission indexes, water consumption indexes, and ecological footprint indexes. A sample table is attached below to compare effectively.

  • Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and cereals must be partially substituted for animal-based food rather than a complete replacement.

 Environmental footprints: Daily carbon (a), water (b), and ecological (c) impacts expressed as average of 7-d food records
Environmental footprints: Daily carbon (a), water (b), and ecological (c) impacts expressed as average of 7-d food records (grams of CO2 equivalent/d, litres of H2O/d, and square meters of land/d, respectively). Values are means ± standard deviation of y-one independent measurements for each diet group. Dierent letters indicate signicantly dierent values (P < 0.001) as calculated by one-way ANOVA with post hoc Tukey HSD test among the three diet groups. O, omnivores; VG, ovo-lacto-vegetarians; V, vegans.

Daily carbon footprint, water footprint, and ecological footprint values of food groups omnivores, vegan and vegetarian
Daily carbon footprint, water footprint, and ecological footprint values of food groups (as average of 7-d food record) for each of the three diet groups. Values are mean ± standard deviation of y-one independent measurements. Dierent letters indicate signicantly dierent values (P < 0.05) as calculated by one-way ANOVA with post hoc Tukey HSD test among the three diet groups. O, omnivores; VG, ovo-lacto-vegetarians; V, vegans. Drinks: alcoholic beverages, so drinks, and fruit juices. Meat and Fish: meat and meat products, and sh. Other animal-based foods: eggs, milk and dairy products, and animal fat. Cereals and their derivatives: cereals and their derivatives. Other vegetable-based foods: fruit, vegetables, nuts and dried fruits, legumes, potatoes and other tubers, vegetable alternatives, and vegetable fat. Sweets and desserts: sweets and desserts.

In conclusion, if you drive for ethical reasons, vegetarian and vegan do not make sense under sustainable eating, but for nutrition reasons, they can count.

Is Omitting Dairy A Solution?

Food choices matter a lot. The reports say dairy damage the environment due to its methane emissions, but it can be less harmful than the air-transported exotic fruits. It is recently found that the asparagus consumed in the UK emits 5.3 Kg of CO2 per kilogram due to its air transport from Peru. I have already discussed that the carbon footprints of each person vary according to the above-stated factors. Moreover, Avocado, a healthy source of protein, fats, and vitamins, needs 46 gallons of water for a single day in the summer. Similarly, cashews and almonds need extensive water for their production.

Also, if a larger area is susceptible to agriculture, it may lead to forest losses, soil erosion, and extensive release of nitrous oxide harmful to the environment. Hence, completely replacing dairy in the forgery of sustainable eating is lame.

Hence, complete replacement is not a solution, however, a balance can be one.

Is Veganism Sustainable?

As we have discussed sustainable eating point on point through environmental concerns, we know that it is not only the carbon emissions but other factors too that contribute towards imbalance. Additionally, we must never forget the food chain that is a balance. We also must consider the energy intake according to the geographical regions because for every person, carbon footprint may differ. Excessive agriculture can degrade the soil quality, forest covers, etc. Do you wonder what can happen if there are famines or droughts? Do you consider veganism the only way to save the planet? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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