There’s an interesting scientific paper which was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007. The authors compared a week’s worth of ‘conventional’ diet with vegetarian and vegan diets of equal nutritional value, and analyzed the environmental impacts of each diet. They added another variable by basing each diet on organic agriculture and also chemical agriculture.
Their basic conclusions:
Within the same method of production, a greater consumption of animal products translates to a greater impact on the environment … the ‘normal’ diet based on products from chemical– conventional agriculture and conventional farming turns out to have the greatest environmental impact, whereas the vegan diet based on organic products turns out to have the smallest environmental impact…
L Baroni, L Cenci, M Tettamanti and M Berati, “Evaluating the environmental impact of various dietary patterns combined with different food production systems,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007) 61, 279–286,
2007, Nature Publishing Group, http://www.nature.com/ejcn
(Sorry, I tried to link to it, but it’s login-only through EBSCOhost Academic Search, which I have access to through my public library membership.)
These results are not so surprising, since it is an inefficient use of resources to feed protein (grains, soy, etc) to animals and then eat the animals; it is also a massive waste of water and a major source of pollutants. These factors were certainly taken into account in the study, which was based in Italy.
Vegan diet is not only environmentally sound; it is also nutritionally adequate and is recognized as such by the Dieticians of Canada and the American Dietetic Association.
Found a relevant blog post to this issue over at Vegan Freaks. The author rightly points out that while environmentalism is an important consideration in adopting a vegan diet, the heart and soul of veganism as it was conceived by its founder Donald Watson is about animal rights and non-violence, not just a way of eating. Seeing veganism as ‘just’ a diet, and not a comprehensive ethical way of relating to other animals and the rest of the world, means missing much of the point. Suffice it to say that’s why I don’t indulge in overblown health claims about veganism; if people are to sustain a vegan approach it must be based on a solid philosophical foundation, not on fad diets or eco-trendyism. A good clarification …