Vegan diets, in which people do not consume or use animal products, are becoming more popular locally and around the world. Veganism has health benefits, not only for the individual, but also for the health of our environment. Many vegans have offered their lifestyle as a solution to many global issues. So, is veganism the cure our world needs, or is it a privilege?
In large cities across the Western world, veganism has become far more accessible. Some independent restaurants now offer completely vegan menus, and larger chains often have vegan-friendly options.
I recently visited Los Angeles, where the vegan-friendly restaurants were equal in number to “regular” restaurants. Being that Los Angeles is a very health conscious city, this makes sense. According to the Dieticians of Canada: “A healthy vegan diet has many health benefits including lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.”
It does, however, take a fair bit of self-control. The vast majority of baked goods, such as cookies and cakes are off limits to vegans, as the ingredients include eggs or milk.
A potential risk of eliminating meat and animal by-products from ones diet is a lack of nutrients. According to Dieticians of Canada: “It may take planning to get enough protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins D and B12 and omega-3 fats from foods or supplements.”
If an individual is willing to do the research, and has the self-control to avoid certain treats, the positive effects go beyond one’s health. With fewer people consuming meat and animal by-products, there is less demand. The production of these items can be cruel for the animals, and can be damaging to our environment. Meat production specifically uses a shocking amount of water – according to National Geographic, a pound of beef requires more than 6,800 litres of water to produce.
If you are able to access the nutrients necessary to live out a vegan diet, the effects can be positive. So, is it the answer for all of us, on a global scale? I would argue, not quite.
While it makes sense for many of us in the Western world to live out such a lifestyle, it is just not possible for those living in poverty. Due to the popularity of certain vegan-friendly items, such as avocados, quinoa and soy, the prices have skyrocketed. This means many of these items high in nutritional value are simply not accessible.
Suggesting veganism as a cure for all also conveniently forgets that the consumption of meat and animal by-products is a vital part of culture for some. The vast majority of Indigenous cultures in Canada, for example, do not see animals as commodities; but as a vital part in the circle of life, which is to be respected. Animals and their by-products are not used wastefully, but are used in service to both the people and the land.
Ultimately, veganism is a positive, and brings focus to a larger issue in the Western world: our treatment of animals, the rate at which we produce meat and animal by-products, and the negative effects of each.