Is veganism the answer to climate change?

Study advocates radical restructuring of Western diet to avert major climate crisis

The fate of the planet depends on what’s on your plate, it seems. The EAT-Lancet Commission’s study on the dietary changes required to put the global food system on a more sustainable path will be viewed by meat lovers everywhere as some sort of vegan armageddon.

It advocates curtailing our daily meat intake by up to 90 per cent in case of beef or lamb, and eating 18 times as much soy, beans and other pulses. Even a glass of milk would have to be weighed against the likely intake of butter or cheese.

Unsurprisingly, traditional food industry representatives were out in force to express their outrage.

"The potent combination of nanny state campaigners, militant vegetarians and environmental activists poses a real and present danger to a free society," said Christopher Snowdon from the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs, an organisation funded by the tobacco industry.


Yet when you cut through the gristle of expected outrage, you can see the science boffins have a point. Food production is the single biggest environmental threat to the planet. And there’s simply no getting away from the fact that the way we eat is unsustainable.

The Taoiseach may have undermined his veggie credentials this week – he said he was cutting back on his consumption of meat to reduce his carbon footprint – only to be caught chowing down on a juicy steak with his Fine Gael colleagues. Nonetheless his underlying message probably deserves some serious reflection.

Combining action on climate change with the move to a healthier lifestyle will appeal to many. January is also a time when we all review our daily routines and a little reduction in meat consumption – turning to quality rather than quantity – would likely help our health, the planet and farmers who manage their herds properly.