You may have noticed an abundance of plant-based milks and meatless alternatives as people choose to reduce their consumption of animal products. Alternative milks like oat and almond milk have seemingly become more popular as have meatless meats like Beyond and Impossible. These can be great products for people who want to reduce the amount of animal products they consume. With these products often comes vegetarianism and veganism, an allergy, or simply a preference, but today we’re talking about veganism. Vegan diets eliminate the consumption of all animal products, not just meat. There are many reasons that people decide to choose a vegan diet such as environmental concern, health benefits, or animal welfare considerations.
Climate change has become a major concern for many people and according to the Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2021, 72% of adults in the US believe that global warming is happing, however, only 57% think it is caused mostly by human acitivities. Here in Deschutes County is a similar story to the national statistics, with 74% believing that global warming is happening and 58% believing it is caused mostly by human activities. Global food production is responsible for over one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions making this an area where people feel the need to change their habits.
There are many variations in emissions production depending on the location and processes used, however, a 2018 study from Poore and Nemecek found that even the lowest environmental impact (responsible practices) of a product like beef (the food with the highest emissions) has higher emissions than the plant-based foods with the worst environmental impact. This is one motivator to decrease meat consumption or even cut it from a diet.
Plant-based and vegan diets have also been known to have health benefits for many people. Findings from the 2021 EPIC-Oxford study found that vegetarians and vegans typically have lower body mass index (BMI), serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and bone mineral density compared to regular meat eaters. The study also found that vegans have a lower risk of diabetes. However, there are nutrients that vegans may be lacking without additional supplements so if you’re thinking of trying out a vegan diet, make sure you do the necessary research to understand the risks as it pertains to your health and lifestyle.
The nutrients that vegan diets can lack are vitamin B12, vitamin D, and possibly calcium, but that isn’t to say you will have deficiencies. In fact, people that aren’t on a special diet can lack nutrients, however, people who follow a vegan diet are likely to have lower intakes of these nutrients without additional supplements. Supplements or a multivitamin may be recommended, but check in with your doctor if you are considering or concerned about a vegan diet (I’m not a doctor).
Animal welfare is another factor that may be important for someone who is vegan. It’s an issue that has gained widespread traction and has become more prevalent in recent years. The number of animals farmed globally has risen in the past 60 years according to data from Our World in Data presented in an article by Vox. With increased demand comes an increase in resources, which can lead to the prioritization of farm animals over wild animals whose populations have been decreasing as land and resources are used for animal farming. The article states the demand for more meat is the leading cause of deforestation, emphasizing the environmental impact that it has. Considerations not only pertain to the direct treatment of the farmed animals but to the animals and ecosystems that are impacted to accommodate them.
Awareness about animal welfare has also grown with many companies working towards more ethical practices to appeal to mass markets. Temple Grandin’s work regarding ethical practices for livestock was revolutionary, however, there are still many issues surrounding the humane treatment of animals. Factory farms are often targeted for inhumane treatment of animals, such as poor diets, inaccessibility of outdoor areas, and inhumane slaughter practices. These issues vary locally, nationally, and globally and there are many farms with practices that are humane and provide a comfortable environment for the animals.