Doing the best we can for our planet has become more of a necessity than ever before—what we consume needs to be thought about twice, if not more. And while this observation spreads over all consumerist categories, I want to specifically talk about veganism, because it’s January again, which means Veganuary for some. A lot of vegan products look the part, they talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. How can we guarantee that our choices are doing the right thing for our planet?
If even one person can choose to do something for the benefit of our planet (which is what we should all be doing in whatever way we can), then why waste the effort on something that is just as unsustainable as their counterparts? As impactful as going vegan is, all vegans (and non vegans) still have to jump through the hurdles in finding what is sustainable or not thanks to greedy marketeers and their greenwashing tactics. Here are a few sustainable switches, and things to think about for Veganuary and beyond.
Having started in 2014, Veganuary is a nonprofit organisation that runs a campaign each year to encourage people to go vegan for the whole of January. The organisation operates all year round in order to make sure that the initiatives that are put in place at the start of the year continue to be built upon into the future.
Almost half of all food emissions come from animal products, and by removing just meat from our diets we would remove the 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions that livestock creates, according to the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO). That being said, vegan and vegetarian protein alternatives also carry their own carbon footprint, as studies show that some vegan diets have carbon emissions as high as omnivore diets. This is due to the carbon impact from production of goods, transportation and packaging. The negative repercussions of this fact can most definitely be improved by what we choose to consume and how. For example, choose foods that avoid transportation.
The average vegetarian and vegan breakfast has travelled a distance equal to the circumference of the Earth by the time it reaches your plate. We have a choice in this, and can instead pick to buy locally. Farmers’ markets are dotted all over cities as well as smaller towns, just Google one near you. They do tend to be a little pricer in some cases, but there are also ways to get around this by the way that you cook. For example, try batch cooking for the week and freeze meals to warm up later.
In some big cities, there are delivery boxes available that don’t travel across oceans to get to you, but instead from farms just outside of your city. The UK has deliveries from Riverford, Abel and Cole or Odd Box to name a few, just share the price (and the cooking) with your flatmates. There are also local land plots that give you fresh vegetables in return for helping a little with the gardening. If you’re lucky enough to have the extra space, grow some vegetables of your own.
Another thing to think about is the communities where the foods that you eat are coming from, such as avocados. Mexican locals have depended on avocados as a food staple for years, and when the demand is so high in other countries causing them to be exported, it is also driving the prices up within the food’s origin, which in turn causes food insecurities. Look for stamps on the food such as Fairtrade and the Soil Association when choosing your fresh produce from supermarkets, because they take all of this into consideration too.
One of the massive problems in keeping consumer habits environmentally friendly is how the food is packaged. Plastic is a big fat no no, as it not only threatens wildlife and spreads toxins but it also contributes to global warming. Many brands out there are either launching sustainable companies, such as clothing company All Birds, or coming up with innovative alternatives to regular plastic to package their products in such as Nespresso and Alpro. Again, to find out how environmentally friendly a brand is, look for the stamps that guarantee that they are, as we mentioned earlier, or go the extra mile and do your own research.
Other ways to avoid plastic is by using reusable bags—and I don’t mean buy a bunch of fashionable tote bags from large companies—I mean just reuse the bags that you have already. I keep one in my handbag at all times, and it’s no extra effort whatsoever. Find a zero waste store where you can bring your own containers and refillable bottles near you, there is bound to be one in this day and age.
You can also bake your own bread or visit a bakery instead of going for the usual plastic-wrapped loaf. It’ll taste ten times better too. Wash up using a bar of soap, it will last longer and will save you money. Buy less, go to a charity shop for new clothes. Make things last, you don’t need half a bottle of shampoo to clean your hair every time. Everything that you have around you in your home, and use on a daily basis, is bound to have a sustainable counterpart. If not, make one. It’s that simple!
Simply by considering the three points above, and acting on those considerations, you will make a difference to the world and our climate. It really does just come down to how creative we can be, and changing our perspectives. There are always options, and soon we may not have a choice. Small swaps that start in our own lives go a very long way when it comes to living sustainably. Veganuary isn’t just about not eating or using animal products, it is about refreshing our awareness on the consequences of our actions.
A lot of the time, business is ahead of governments when it comes to coping with change. For example, multiple recent adaptations sprouted from the global COVID-19 pandemic. In some way or another, pandemics, global warming and economic unrest are all linked. As we face increasing disruptions such as cross-border migration and deglobalisation, alongside the devastating worry of climate change, the agricultural sector has to be among one of the most flexible industries that there is. There is a new way of farming, and much like cities and towns that adapted to growing skywards, it looks like our food may soon do the same. What is vertical farming, and how will it work exactly?
The practice of vertical farming is basically the growing of crops in stacked layers, within a controlled environment that has no need for solar light. This means that these crops can be housed in buildings, shipping containers, underground tunnels and even abandoned mine shafts—any atmosphere that can be carefully controlled, really. Vertical farms use soil-free growing techniques and are designed to be able to lay the crops in beds and trays on top of eachother. Artificial lighting and climate control are manipulated to fulfil the crops’ needs, including irrigation and fertigation (which is to supply dissolved fertilisers to crops through an irrigation system).
Vertical farming was initially a concept developed by Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier, who estimated that by 2050 nearly 80 per cent of the earth’s population will reside in urban centres, the human population would increase by about 3 billion people during the interim and an estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20 per cent more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, with the current average increase in population estimated at 81 million people per year, it looks like he could be right.
To combat this problem, vertical farming has become the best solution there is in order for us to increase the production of fruit and vegetables without the need for genetic modification or the cultivation of new farmland over space that we may not be lucky enough to have in the future. Other than the ever impending doom of a potentially, if not already, overpopulated planet, climate change is showing it’s sharpening teeth with more vengeance than ever before. This means that growing plants in a traditional way might be impossible anyway if we cannot control the manmade monster.
One of the great things about humans, and there evidently aren’t many, is our ability to prepare for the worst case scenario, and vertical farming is what many seem to be betting on as the next generation’s normal. By farming in this way, it may help to preserve the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the main advantage of utilising these technologies is the increased crop yield that comes with the much smaller unit area of land requirement.
The crops will be sheltered from weather disruptions, meaning less waste due to crop failures, and because of the nature of the environment that the crops are grown in being secluded—the native plants and animals surrounding the farmland will be less affected, leading to the conservation of local flora and fauna. Vertical farming also has the potential to cut down on fossil fuels needed for harvest and transportation, and it uses significantly less water than normal cultivation.
There are of course, pros and cons to everything, and this solution to a problem is not exempt. Because vertical farming takes place in such a controlled environment, presumably without the presence of insects, the pollination process will need to be done manually, which is labour intensive and costly. However, the need for labour may be reduced, as the technological advancements of today lean towards automation and robotics. That being said, this could also lead to us depending on technology too much. A power cut could be devastating for one of these farms, which begs the question: are the technologies in use today ready for a mass adoption? And even moreso, do they have a choice other than to test out this route in our weakened climate?
The vertical farming market is growing rapidly, especially in places like Japan which already boasts 200 large scale plant factories, by 2022 the market is anticipated to hit a value of $5.8 billion. In the US, it’s growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 24 per cent, and by 2024, it’s expected to reach $3 billion annually. To compare this to now, the fresh fruit and vegetable industry is worth over $104 billion.
Vertical farming technologies are still relatively new, and companies are yet to successfully produce crops in the grand scale we need to meet the growing demand for food, as well as to make it economically feasible.
Until the big movers make it mainstream for the rest of us, we can still use the same techniques on a smaller scale, in our own homes. This technology however remains expensive to purchase and not exactly necessary as it takes a while to pay for itself. An AeroGarden is undoubtedly worth it if you live in a city. You can grow any herbs or small fruits such as tomatoes and berries to enjoy all year round, without having to splurge the extra cash on the organic section in supermarkets. Self sufficiency is possible in many ways, even in the heights of a big city, and with the urgent need for us to reduce our waste and plastic use, it is becoming unnegotiable. You don’t have to have green fingers either, the tech will do the fiddling for you. We can all start small, we all did at one point, and look how big we are now.