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Veganism paves the way for a more sustainable future

Amala Balakrishner
Amala Balakrishner1/31/2022 12:45 PM GMT+08  • 5 min read
Veganism paves the way for a more sustainable future
Oxford University identified going vegan as the “single biggest way” we can reduce our carbon footprint, shrinking it by 73%
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A popular New Year’s resolution amongst individuals across age groups has been to go meat-free. Analysts from independent research house Dynata attribute this to a direct relationship between a desire for self-improvement and a willingness to reduce one’s meat intake.

The paradigm shift follows promised health benefits that come with shunning steak and stilton as well as the rise of alternative, plant-based proteins touting to use sustainable food sources to emulate the taste of meat. Plant-based alternatives such as for beef by Impossible Foods and pork by the Omnipork label have increasingly been incorporated in menus across cuisines.

Such lifestyle tweaks have pushed veganism to the forefront in recent years. The movement transcends modifications to one’s diet and involves adopting a lifestyle that excludes any form of animal-based products.

It has been named an important tool in the global fight against environmental concerns. A study by Oxford University identified going vegan as the “single biggest way” we can reduce our carbon footprint, shrinking it by 73%.

An individual’s carbon footprint captures the net total of greenhouse gas emissions generated by his/her actions.

See also: APAC region will need to address funding gap for renewable energy projects to transition to net-zero future: SMBC survey

Every step of the production of animal products generates greenhouse gases. The process ranges from clearing forests for animal pasture, producing animal feed and the gases emitted from the animals’ waste.

The ecosystem preparing meat for consumption is more carbon-intensive than just growing and harvesting plants for food. “Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions,” notes Joseph Poore, the lead author of the Oxford University study. He adds that producing plant-based meat emits up to 90% less greenhouse gases than what is released during conventional meat production.

Poore’s comments echo the perspectives put forth by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat during the Singapore International Agri-Food week in November 2021.

“Meat is a major contributor of food-related carbon emissions,” he said, adding that alternative protein is more sustainable than traditional cattle and poultry farming.

See also: SBF training programme helps companies stay ahead of the sustainability curve

Singapore has been championing the production of alternative proteins in the past few years.

For one, the Singapore Food Authority (SFA) is the first regulatory authority in the world to approve the sale of lab-grown meat. This has spurred several global providers of alternative proteins to set up shop here, including US start-up Eat Just, which offers lab-grown chicken meat and vegan egg substitutes. Similarly, local start-up Karana has been emulating the taste of chicken with jackfruit, while biotech start-up TurtleTree labs offers slaughter-free, lab-grown dairy and human breast milk.

Nutritional value

Even as a vegan lifestyle is considered more environmentally friendly, many are concerned that it lacks the nutritional value that an omnivorous diet provides. A 2019 study by the Oxford University put this to the test by comparing the health of 48,000 meat-eaters, pescatarians – people who eat fish and dairy, but not meat – vegetarians and vegans.

The research found that people who did not eat meat had a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Nutritionists attribute this to lower cholesterol levels in plant-based foods as they are not processed like meat.

However, the vegan and vegetarian participants were seen to have a slightly higher risk of stroke – with three more strokes per 1,000 people compared to that for meat-eaters.

Tammy Tong, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Oxford University says a possible cause could be that vegans and vegetarians have a higher risk of B12 deficiency. B12 helps to prevent nerve damage and is found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy. It is recommended that adults consume 1.5 micrograms of the vitamin daily.

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Calling the amount “miniscule”, the researchers note that the necessary B12 can easily be gotten from fortified food such as plant-based milks.

Veganuary

While veganism has its roots in addressing environmental concerns and promoting animal welfare, it has also drawn a substantial following because of the health benefits it brings. Interestingly, the common desire to start the New Year on the right foot with food-related resolutions has put Veganuary in the spotlight in recent years.

The annual challenge – which has been run by a non-profit in the United Kingdom since 2014 – encourages people to follow a vegan lifestyle throughout the month of January.

Run jointly by Centre for a Responsible Future and Green Monday in Singapore, the movement here kicked off on Jan 6 with the screening of a documentary. Entitled The End of Meat, the documentary showcased a world where animals and humans cohabit in a safe space. This is already being practiced in petting farms in the US and Germany as well as in some parts of Gujarat, India.

The launch event also featured a panel discussion that touched on how to lead a plant-based lifestyle. Meanwhile, the organisations have also put together food trails to vegan-friendly restaurants and cooking tutorials that aspiring vegans can refer to.

This year, over 625,000 people from 229 countries have already signed up to try being vegan in January. With Veganuary spanning across 31 days, the hope is that New Year resolutions to go meat-free transform from a goal to a lifestyle.

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