Status: 10.12.2023 15:52

Vegan diets are very popular. More and more people are avoiding animal products, not only for animal welfare reasons, but also for environmental and climate reasons.

By Helene Fröhmcke, WDR

For Ramona Dworschak, a vegan diet is the most normal thing in the world. She doesn’t think cake without eggs tastes any worse than one with eggs. Using as many regional, organically grown products as possible and offering vegan food – she also wants to make a contribution to climate protection.

Her Café GUTTUT is a small shop in the middle of Dortmund. Green facade, wooden benches and a small glass counter behind which Ramona stands. Ramona is not only the owner of the shop, but also serves, cooks, bakes vegan cakes and comes up with a completely new menu every week. The changing curries are particularly popular. This week on the menu: a fruity curry with pears, melted kohlrabi, pointed cabbage, fennel and basmati rice.

Ramona took over the café in 2019 – and made it one of the first vegan cafés in Dortmund. Most customers are positively surprised by the exclusively vegan offering, she says. But there are also some who don’t like the purely vegan food: “I do think I’ve lost a few customers because of it. But I’ve also gained a lot.”

Germans eat climate-friendly

Many people are now paying attention to the impact of their diet on the environment and climate. The daily consumption of plant-based alternatives to meat products has increased significantly. This is shown by the latest nutrition report from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. In 2015, one in three people said they ate meat every day – now it is only one in five.

Eating less meat, cheese and butter in everyday life can make an important contribution to climate protection. According to the German Environmental Aid, this is one of the easiest climate protection measures that an individual can take. “It has been proven that plant-based diets produce fewer emissions than animal products,” says nutrition researcher Guido Ritter from the Institute for Sustainable Nutrition in Münster. “If food has to go through an animal before it can go through our bodies, that is absolutely inefficient,” says Ritter.

Especially in terms of the CO2 balance. According to the Federal Environment Agency, food in Germany accounts for around fifteen percent of consumption-related CO2 emissions. More than two thirds of this comes from animal products.

Methane in particular is a problem

The main reason for this is methane emissions from livestock farming, which contribute to global warming. Methane is produced, among other things, by the digestion of animals, especially cattle and sheep, but also by the storage of fertilizers such as liquid manure.

In addition, animals need a lot of feed to produce meat, milk and eggs. The high demand for agricultural land for growing feed means that ecologically valuable areas such as forests or moors are sacrificed to agricultural use. The consequences: additional emissions, polluted soil and water and negative consequences for biodiversity.

Vegan does not always mean healthy

Anyone who wants to have as little impact on the climate and the environment as possible with their diet and at the same time wants to eat healthily should eat less red meat and less sugar. This is what the EAT-Lancet Commission, a research group of 37 scientists, says. They have designed the so-called “Planetary Health Diet”. The main thing is to eat a balanced diet: vegetables, fruit, nuts and pulses. But you don’t have to do without a piece of meat every two weeks. The researchers estimate that the diet could prevent around eleven million premature deaths worldwide from diet-related diseases.

Too much meat, however, can be unhealthy. The German Nutrition Society recommends around 300 grams of meat per week. Various international studies have confirmed that the consumption of processed meat in particular is unhealthy. It has been shown time and again that consumption increases the incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

However, you can’t say across the board that it would be healthier to eat a vegan or vegetarian diet. There are a few things you need to pay attention to, says Guido Müller: “Eating a vegan diet is a limitation. Animal products contain vitamins, such as vitamin B12, and proteins, which are important for a healthy diet.”

The responsibility lies not only with the individual

In addition, it is still too expensive for many people to avoid animal products and eat sustainably. Guido Ritter from the Institute for Sustainable Nutrition believes that this is also a political task: “It must be possible to shop without worrying about making the wrong decision,” he says. This is where politics, industry and trade come into play: “The food environment must be designed in such a way that it is normal to eat sustainably. At the moment it is the other way around,” says Ritter.

The Federal Environment Agency confirms that sustainable nutrition is not an individual task, but one for society as a whole: “If, for example, the canteens do not offer tasty, wholesome and affordable vegetarian dishes, even motivated customers will hardly be able to eat in a climate-friendly way.” The food retail sector can also make important contributions through its product range and pricing.

The topic of nutrition will also continue to be the focus of the 28th World Climate Conference (COP). On December 10, a whole day will be dedicated to nutrition and agriculture for the first time. At the beginning, more than 130 countries had already committed to devoting a central role to nutrition and agriculture in their national climate protection plans.

Organic and regional – if you can afford it

In the Café GUTTUT, Ramona Dworschak offers her guests almost exclusively organic and, if possible, regional products, but that makes it more expensive. For her and her customers: “If I bought everything conventionally, I would make a higher profit.” With the café, she wants to create an environment in which all guests feel comfortable – without having to think about where their food comes from and how it is prepared.