And with plant-based living also reducing cases of heart disease and diabetes, some research suggests that global veganism could result in 8.1 million fewer avoidable deaths per year, with savings of up to $1000 billion in health care costs and lost work days.
But beyond these ecological and economic arguments, veganism also poses cultural questions. Food is not only a source of nutrition but also of communal activity, celebration, and symbolism. Many religious and cultural festivals centre around specific food, and in particular meat, such as turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and a lamb shank on a Seder plate for Passover.
Such traditions might well evolve, and perhaps even quicker than we might imagine — just look at the rapid changes in smoking and drinking habits over just one generation in the U.K. But what about cultures around the globe where animal-intense diets are a climate necessity, and an essential part of community practice over centuries, or even millennia? Cultures such as the Inuit in Arctic and sub-Arctic Inuit, which eat seals, walrus, birds, eggs, and a wide variety of fish. Or the Maasai in Eastern Africa, whose traditional diet consists of the milk, blood, and meat of the cattle they raise.
Just as veganism has wider ramifications on society, the hunting, raising, and eating of animals has an integral role for these cultures and their communities. What happens, not only economically but also culturally if the Maasai and Inuit need to import other food, or if their practices cease to exist? Will they or can they
be replaced? Is it possible to maintain an identity if such a fundamental shift occurs?
All things considered, an all vegan planet holds much promise. Scaled up, plant-centric living would almost certainly be more sustainable and healthy at both a human and a planetary level. But humans are not only physical creatures. We are social and cultural and psychological and culinary, and in imagining a vegan planet, we must not underestimate the frameworks of identity and belonging that surround what we eat. A plant-based planet would likely do wonders for our climate and our collective health, but it may be in incremental – rather than absolute – changes that we are able to retain the diversity that is also who we are.
Words by Eliza Apperly