Since 2014, 500,000 people in 178 countries worldwide have participated in Veganuary – but what are their reasons for doing it?

For many (especially after the excess of Christmas), it offers an opportunity for a healthier diet; for others, they choose to do it on moral grounds – believing that all harm and exploitation of animals is unethical. However, according to the official Veganuary website, 12% of vegans cut animal products out of their life on the basis that this is better for the environment. Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case… The logic goes that, not only does animal farming require substantially more land and resources, they also cause exponential methane emissions – contributing to climate change. This is completely true. Plant based agriculture grows 512% more kilograms of food than animal-based agriculture in the same area of land – as well as vegetables requiring only 322 litres of water per kg compared to chicken at 4,325l/kg and beef at 15,415l/kg. 33% of crops currently grown are used to produce livestock feed and each of the planets’ 1.5 billion cattle produce up to 120 kg of methane a year.

Regrettably however, the alternatives don’t perform much better. Nuts, a staple vegan protein, in fact require 9,063 litres of water per kilogram – much more than chickens. Furthermore, due to its growing popularity as a meat substitute (as evidenced by Burger King’s new ‘Rebel Whopper’), soy farming has increased by 115% in the last decade. As a result, 114 million acres of Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest has been deforested to accommodate the agriculture – leading to the loss of habitat of already endangered species such as the South American Tapir, the Hyacinth macaw and the Uakari Monkey and ultimately leading to a loss of biodiversity and hence the exact harm that many vegans are so keen to protect against. Whilst cattle methane emissions are a contributing factor to our growing climate emergency, deforestation, especially to dense forests such as the Amazon is even more detrimental. The Amazon acts as a carbon sink, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Therefore, deforestation reduces the rainforest’s capacity to store carbon dioxide – resulting in a greater volume remaining in the atmosphere and contributing to the greenhouse effect.

Taking all of this into account, what is the most environmentally friendly diet? The biggest difference that you could make is to reduce red meat consumption, but other meats such as chicken have a ten times smaller carbon footprint and therefore are not as harmful to the environment as some suggest. As long as you ensure that all of your food comes from sustainable and, if possible, local resources then your diet will be environmentally sound regardless of whether you choose to consume animal products or not. Veganism is not the only solution – but as long as it encourages people to put more thought into where their food comes from, it can only be a positive.

Toby Saiban, Wilson's School