Patrick West

Vegans, your soya milk is killing the planet

In the popular imagination, veganism and environmentalism go hand-in-hand. Both are championed – often in one voice – by ultra-progressive types who protest that we should live more ethically and responsibly in order to save the planet. Both types argue that eating less methane-emitting cattle and consuming more agriculturally-efficient crops is the first step we can all make as individuals into halting climate change.

A report published by the UK Sustainable Food Trust not only implicitly challenges the assumption that veganism and environmentalism work in symbiosis, it tacitly suggests that the two movements may be in actual conflict with each other.

It calls upon vegans to stop drinking soy milk in order to save the planet, and that milk from cows – especially cows grazed on grass rather than imported soya beans – is much better for a sustainable planet. ‘Vegans and others who buy milk substitutes made from soya for their latte and cappuccino, or breakfast cereal, are also harming the planet. They would do better to switch to milk from cows… if they want to help make a more sustainable planet,’ the report states.

Veganism, as practised today, is mostly the preserve of the cosmopolitan middle-classes

Global production of soya beans and palm oils has doubled over the past 20 years and continues to rise. The two account for 90 per cent of global vegetable oil production and are used in processed foods, animal feed and non-food products. Many of us are attuned to the devastation caused to rainforests by palm oil cultivation, but less well known is comparable ruination caused by soya bean production: and the cultivation of both is having terrible consequences.

Soya milk is only the most glaring battle-ground between vegans and environmentalism. Veganism, as practised today, is mostly the preserve of the cosmopolitan middle-classes, whose diet often include quinoa imported from South America, almonds from California, pomegranates from India, beans from Brazil, goji berries China and soya from south-east Asia – this soya will, in turn, be transformed into processed vegan burgers and vegan sausages.

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