Why your plant based diet might be ‘doing more harm than good’ as record numbers take on Veganuary

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Food trends such as Meat-free Mondays and Veganuary have risen in popularity, with ‘#vegan’ being used over 105 million times on Instagram at the most recent count. This January more than a quarter of meals were meat-free according to Rustlers – that’s 1.2 billion dishes.

It’s clear that we’re all more conscious about what we eat, and the idea of meat and two veg for every meal has gone out of fashion along with jeggings.

However, Glen Burrows, who co-founded The Ethical Butcher, believes that those decisions aren’t so heroic. In fact, he argues that going veggie or vegan can do more harm than good…

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'There are key nutrients and vitamins which are simply missing'

I was a vegetarian for 25 years, but as soon as I introduced animal products back into my diet my health dramatically improved. I was starting to suffer from some terrible brain fog which is a symptom of high levels of systemic inflammation, I was always hungry and I developed huge patches of psoriasis.

My wife suffered from fatigue which was really debilitating, so she started eating meat before me and her recovery was miraculous. I decided to try as well – and the psoriasis cleared up, I packed on muscle, I lost body fat, my brain felt like it was awake once more, my sleep improved and so did my digestion. There are key nutrients and vitamins which are simply missing in our diets without meat.

Of course, it is different for everybody and it is possible to be a healthy vegan or vegetarian, but it takes an awful lot more planning than an omnivore diet. People might initially feel the benefits of going vegan, because they’ve cut out junk food or engage in health-seeking behaviours like doing exercise, but soon they require supplementation and fortification for a balanced diet.

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'Soybeans are contributing to deforestation'

A lot of fast food brands like Subway and KFC are creating soybean products to emulate meat. Our meat farming often only uses sunlight and rainwater, but they’re having to produce chemically dependent crops to make soy. Replacing high quality and well cared for animals in a natural system with fake meat is not a good swap.

A lot of the soy is genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, which is found in a chemical weed killer called Roundup. It’s then sprayed on the field, killing every other living plant. It has detrimental effects on the bacteria in the soil, and encourages as little diversity as possible to eliminate competition. Soy is often grown in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, and this is causing a lot of deforestation. The soybean farmers are essentially creating a desert to grow soybeans. It’s an incredibly destructive crop.

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'Avocados require a huge amount of energy and water to grow'

It’s been reported that an avocado farm in New Mexico has used up so much water they’re experiencing mild earthquakes. This is happening because the aquifers, (which are underground layers of rock that are saturated with water that can be brought to the surface through natural springs or by pumping), has been reduced so low. Why? Because avocados require a huge amount of energy and water to grow.

If we could grow them commercially in the UK then it isn’t so bad because we’ve got plenty of it, but in Mexico it’s taking water away from places where it’s needed for other purposes. There’s also the human aspect – people are often being exploited to produce this food and as it’s produced so far away it isn’t very traceable. The whole supply chain network is using huge amounts of fossil fuels to get the avocados to this country and then half the time you open them they are black inside anyway.

'It’s hard to have a vegan diet and eat only what’s sourced in the UK'

Regardless of whether you’re vegan or omnivore you should try to source more of your food from local, and sustainable sources, to contribute to the economy and avoid importation, which is costly to the planet. There aren’t many non-meat foods that grow natively in the UK that provide us with that quality fats so it’s hard to have a vegan diet and eat only UK-sourced products. You can have a very happy, healthy and varied omnivore diet by eating food that are in season and British. We need to make sure we’re feeding ourselves, but taking care of nature at the same time. Our aim is to be regenerative, so we’re taking care of the planet for the future.

'No meal is free from death'

There’s the guilt of killing animals for food, but no meal is free of death. Crops are often sprayed with insecticides, which kills insects and rodents. Organic vegetables are fertilised with organic manure, which is made up of animal dung, bones and blood. Using animals to make food is a part of the cycle of life.

'I have no problem with people eating what they want'

When I express my opinion there can be backlash from the vegan community because it’s challenging their sacred beliefs. They experience confirmation bias, but actually we all need to think a bit more about where our food is coming from before it becomes dangerous. Swapping one product for another without really considering what we’re doing doesn’t do any good. Just because something doesn’t involve animals, it isn’t necessarily better than plant-based alternatives. I want to challenge that single black and white thinking that you’ll be healthier going vegan and the planet will be healthier too. I have no problem with people eating what they want, but it’s important we know the facts.

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