People become vegans for all sorts of reasons, but they can probably stop saying they are because it’s the best thing for the earth. In the many variables of dairy/meat/vegetable diets, when it comes to sustainability, veganism is only around the middle of the pack.
In a study published in the journal Elementa, researchers created biophysical simulation models based on the types of available land used for different sorts of farming, and how that land can support vegan diets, vegetarian diets, and different degrees of meat-eating omnivorous diets. They specified grazing land, perennial cropland, and cultivated cropland.
Now, no one can talk you into eating animal flesh if it gives you the creepy crawlies, but the fact remains that grazing land is suited to livestock (they graze on it), and perennial cropland is best for growing and regrowing the sorts of plants that feed livestock, such as hay. All the acres of dirt best suited to growing grass and hay wouldn’t make great cultivated cropland, which is best for growing smoothie-ready fruits and vegetables.
Of course, many vegans are comparing their diet to the extremely factory-farm meat heavy one popular in an America now, and they’re right, it’s terrible for the planet. But rejecting dairy or eggs out of hand renders lots of land useless. Below is a chart showing how available farmland could best be used to feed the most people, and dairy friendly vegetarians are a clear winner:
Anecdotally, I lived for a summer in my hippie-dippy youth on various organic New York state farms, most of which are situated on amazing grass-growing land and owned by people more obsessed with their carbon footprint than any anti-vaccine raw diet Prius driver you’ve ever met. They all ate a mix of fruits, vegetables and dairy products from their own land, or their neighbors’ land.
The study may be based on theoretical land use, but if it takes 2.5 acres to feed every American a year, our food consumption is definitely fucked up. Perhaps veganism is one way to feel like you’re saving the planet, but anything mass produced is shitty for the environment, including almond milk.