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.