We know that the ever-increasing demand for animal products is hurting the environment. But can we really do something about it? I know that reducing my consumption on a personal level will not be enough to end deforestation or climate change, but I’m trying to implement as many changes to my lifestyle as I can and adopting a plant-based diet was one of these changes. So yeah, writing this post feels like I’m patting myself on the back, I might not be the most objective observer, but bear with me for a couple of minutes and let me tell you why I believe that vegans and plant-based eaters are having a very positive impact on our chances to transition towards a more sustainable future.
The new demand
People hope that by reducing their consumption, they will lower the demand and eventually the production of meat and other animal products. But is it really worth it to sacrifice a part of our comfort and invest time and effort in order to contribute a tiny drop in the ocean of the global consumption of animal products? It’s hard to say how many vegans are there in any country, but the percentages are still very low. One, two or three percent of the population won’t put a dent in our production of meat and dairy. So how is this possible that this small population of vegans are already impacting the direction of our societies in a significant way? I believe that the greatest impact vegans have had so far wasn’t the direct lowering of emissions created by the lower demand, or rather by the slightly slower increase in the global demand. It’s the creation of a new type of demand for plant-based alternatives to animal products that is a true game changer.
Catering to vegans makes a lot of economic sense. The people who want meat substitutes have created a new market and companies wanted to compete and attract them as customers. Over the past decade we’ve seen a lot of plant-based innovation in the food industry. All sorts of alternatives to animal products, and new recipes have popped up and dramatically improved over the past years. And this is just the beginning.
A supermarket that has some vegan options is not only going to sell a couple of veggie burgers, but the people who are looking for these products are also going to buy all sorts of other products while they are there. This creates pressure on more supermarkets to include these plant-based options. Same goes for restaurants and fast-food chains. People who avoid animal products will bring their omnivorous friends to places that have at least one plant-based option. And this will, once again, create pressure on other restaurants to follow suit.
In the process, something really important is happening. Vegan and plant-based products are spreading in most supermarkets and restaurants. The people who are avoiding animal products are pioneers in a society centered around meat and dairy. Without our demand for new products, innovation would have been much slower, and the conditions for much more people to lower their consumption wouldn’t be here. Now, these plant-based products are competing with the traditional meat-based items, and all customers have a chance to buy them, even out of curiosity.
And here is where we get to see a huge potential for a reduction in the consumption of animal products. For example , I think it’s much harder to imagine that 50% of the population would eat exclusively plant-based, while it’s much easier to imagine that everybody lowers their consumption by 50%. Especially, given the fact that largely thanks to vegans, we all have a much wider variety of tasty, healthy, sustainable and cruelty-free products.
This is why I think that a small group of plant-eaters is paving the way to a more sustainable future. Calls for a reduction of our consumption are having more chances of succeeding in convincing people to pass on the steak and beef burgers. Of course, without political commitment, we’re not going to be able to transition fast enough. Animal products are often heavily supported through direct and indirect subsidies. Their environmental footprints are not reflected in the price of the final products, giving them an unfair competitive advantage against their plant-based counterparts. But I believe that all these alternatives are making personal and political change much more plausible.
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Steve the Bartender