How To Pick Your Vegan Alternatives – Depending On Their Environmental Impact

Photographed by Kate Anglestein
In recent years veganism has gone from fringe dietary choice to full-on mainstream and the demand for meat-free meals continues to grow, with the number of vegans in the UK quadrupling from 2014 to 2019. With that has come not only an increase in meat- and dairy-free options but a rapid growth in vegan alternatives that claim to substitute or even emulate meat, milk and cheese. For people who are trying to cut down on meat or dairy, fake versions offer the best of both worlds – a chance to lessen their environmental impact while emulating the experience they're used to.
Various plants make good vegan meat substitutions (shiitake 'bacon' and jackfruit 'pork' are common examples) but the more popular route is to process plant-based legumes or carbs to make everything from oat milk to pea-based burger patties. Yet while these alternatives are becoming more accessible (as supermarkets and fast food brands launch their own vegan meals or milks), question marks surround the claims that they are inherently better for the environment.
First, the good news for environmental vegans: according to Ethical Consumer, not eating meat is always better for the planet than eating it, same for dairy. But if the environment is your concern (as frankly it should be, sorry lads) there is quite a big difference between one plant-based milk and another, depending on what it's made of and where it's from.
In the coming slides we've broken down the key ingredients that make up the majority of vegan alternatives, how to judge their environmental impact, and what to watch out for in your purchases. As ever, keep an eye on packaging – the less plastic, the better!

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