When I went temporarily vegan last year in recognition of World Vegan Month, I learned a lot — particularly that I love eggs and cheese too much to be vegan permanently.

I also learned that interest in vegan eating is rapidly rising.

People choose to eat vegan out of concern for health and animal welfare. But of increasing importance is the environment.


I wrote recently about the report in the journal Nature on climate change and food, which reminded us of the vital link between diet, health and environment and said that if we want to have enough food for everyone on the planet in 30 years' time, we need improvements in farming technologies and management practices.

It also said we really can't successfully mitigate climate change without eating less meat.

I can deal with eating less meat. I like meat, and I think it's good for me, and I think New Zealand's meat production is a lot more sustainable than other countries. But I could live without meat if I had to.

When it comes to eggs and dairy though, I struggle. I really don't want to give up cheese or eggs.

But if the farming of animals is really contributing to the downfall of the planet, shouldn't I be looking seriously at those, too? And isn't dairy a particular issue for New Zealanders, given we produce so much of it?

Dairy and the environment is a difficult issue to get a handle on. Vegans will tell you that dairy production is flat-out evil. Dairy industry groups say all is rosy down on the farm. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, and I still don't know quite what that is.

I was interested to read the comprehensive Sustainability Report produced by Fonterra last year, which goes into some detail on the company's efforts to deal with important issues such as waterways management, greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability of palm oil feed products.

It paints a picture of progress being made, and of dairy farmers committed to the tech and management solutions called for in the Nature report. We're further ahead in some areas than other countries, it seems.


But it seems logical that we can't keep making new dairy farms the way we have over the past 15 years. Unconstrained growth can't be sustainable.

So say you, like me, want to keep eating cheese without trashing the planet? What should we do?

I think it's safe to say we should probably stick to local dairy products; no great hardship, since we do this so well.

I also think if we want to be conscious consumers we have to put a bit more effort in. We need to educate ourselves: Was this product produced sustainably? Is the producer committed to sustainability? The more we demand answers to these questions, the more producers will tell us.

We probably also need to commit — just as with meat — to eating less, but better. That's an approach that's likely good for the planet and for us.

• Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide