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On the other hand - and although it seems difficult to believe - all diets and eating habits have disadvantages. To assume that it would be possible for all human beings to share the same diet is to imply that we all need to consume the same nutrients and in similar amounts. But how do you know what is healthier for each one?
The way of eating cannot be universal
Before deciding on a specific diet, there are many issues to review. Let's not stop considering that each type of diet also implies a different economic budget. In the case of the vegan diet, you have to be very careful not to stop consuming certain nutrients that are easily found in foods of animal origin. That sometimes means spending on food supplements, the prices of which are not affordable for everyone. It is also suggested to increase the consumption of nuts and seeds that, in some parts of the world, have very high prices, compared to other foods.
Another thing to consider is that the information we have on healthy eating is a lot, it changes all the time, it is controversial and is generally linked to political and cultural interests that have little to do with nutrition. While many sources claim the effectiveness and benefits of a vegan diet, others would say the opposite.
The vegan diet responds to an ideology, not to nature
Either way, the discourse in favor of the vegan diet has hardened and grown a lot in the last decade. In fact, veganism is considered a lifestyle (not a diet) that involves values such as caring for the environment and compassion for all forms of life. Some manifestations of that discourse (such as some of the multiple vegan influencers accounts on Instagram and YouTube) have the mission of universalizing their way of thinking and harshly attack those who are not following them.
Cruelty to animals has gone from being a complaint to being a rhetorical device of vegan discourse. It is true that much of the animal food industry keeps livestock in terrible condition, but definitions of what cruelty and violence are can change from culture to culture and from person to person. Eating meat in many parts of the world is traditional and, like any tradition, can be subject to questioning, reassessment and change; But that does not mean that the connotation of the act, for the person who performs it, is negative.
Arguments for veganism
In August 2016, George Monbiot published an article in The Guardian explaining his reasons for going vegan. While his speech is not radical or accusatory, it does pose the vegan diet as the option that everyone should choose if we want to survive as a species on this planet. His strongest argument is that cattle raising implies an overexploitation of the land, which radically amplifies human presence, taking away space for the development of wild flora and fauna. Additionally, he explains that it makes no sense to invest land in planting grains to feed animals that we are going to eat, if you could just eat those grains and no longer use space to keep animals. Finally, he explains that the industries of animal products are not properly regulated by governments and are plagued with corruption, so he refuses to contribute to their development through the consumption of what they produce.
The response of Jimmy Smith, director general of the International Institute for Agricultural Research
For Jimmy Smith, who is dedicated to investigating the matter, the problem is not going to be solved so easily. In response to Monbiot, Smith also published his own arguments in The Guardian. He begins by explaining to us that, while he supports any measure one takes in terms of diet to reduce the negative impact of their environmental footprint, veganism is not going to help achieve truly sustainable development on a global level. Its central argument is that inclusive diets use their environment more optimally than restricted diets. On the other hand, for reasons linked to geography, not all people can carry out a plant-based diet. Smith affirms that "60% of Sub-Saharan Africa is covered by drylands", where livestock are kept and plantations cannot be maintained.
In this sense, livestock is very important for the survival of many people in Africa. In addition, foods of animal origin are calorically dense and have nutrients that many people cannot get in other ways. In very poor areas, owning animals makes all the difference. It makes more sense for him to focus on two things. On the one hand, actions that those with sufficient resources can take (such as moderating food consumption, which in some countries is excessive and reducing food waste, which is, according to Smith, very high) and, on the other, concentrating on improving the conditions under which livestock and animal husbandry are carried out. The most sustainable thing, he tells us, would be to make the best possible use of all available resources, seeking to expand their benefits, reducing the impact on the environment.
Eating in a sustainable way is eating what the environment offers without overexploiting it
Smith explains, in his response to Monbiot, that veganism is evident as a response in a wealthy society that has many options at its disposal. In some ways, being vegan could be considered sustainable where there is no animal husbandry, as in large western cities (although there is not much vegetable production either). Beyond Smith, we might think that perhaps there are clues, that we can no longer ignore, in the way we eat that corresponds to our traditional diets. Without going so far (like pre-colonial) the dishes that we recognize as part of our local gastronomies are possibly prepared with resources that occur naturally in our lands. As we said at the beginning, diets are not by chance, they respond to their context, but it is possible that when deciding to follow a trend we are completely ignoring the environment around us.