World Vegan Day has been celebrated on November 1 every year since 1994. In 2020, Veganism is both more popular and more pertinent than ever before. While Passion Passport seeks to bridge communities and expand experience through travel, we’re aware that adventuring to far-off places can leave quite the carbon footprint. Our Sustainable Travel Series celebrates eco-travelers, low-impact ways of living, and explorations that honor both people and places. We hope it inspires you to travel with the environment in mind.

A bowl of greens sits on a table in front of a small teapot and milkshake.A few years ago, the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change published a groundbreaking report that brought the exact nature of the global environmental crisis into sharper relief. And a few weeks ago, the climate clock that went live in Times Square just added another layer to this year’s unique sense of impending doom. In short, the scientists presented evidence strongly suggesting that the effects of human activity on the planet pose a larger threat than previously imagined, with serious consequences of a greater scale and more immediate effect. The report stated that the emissions of greenhouse gases alone will warm the Earth by another 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2040, surpassing the agreed limit of warming set by the Paris Climate Accords (1.5 celsius) and causing life-threatening rises in sea level around the world. 

The document also punctuated an ongoing debate in the public forum about what society is and isn’t doing to combat climate change, and whether the onus of spearheading change should be on individuals or corporations. This is going to remain a hot topic until more effort is exercised across the board, and at every level — let’s talk about how.

Since the beginning of this year, cities, countries, and companies across the globe have signaled their commitment to environmental responsibility by banning the use of plastic straws in their domains. Single-use plastic items, such as straws, constitute a large percentage of waste in our oceans, with some sources estimating that as much as 12 million tons of plastic pollutants enter our waters every year. The jury is still out about the efficacy of measures like the straw ban, with many observers quick to point out that other plastics, such as single-use water bottles, pose a more significant threat.

A wrap with greens and other vegan ingredients rests in someone's grip.

While experts do agree that environmentally conscious behavior at any level is a good start, many members of the public remain skeptical about the impact they can make. This question of individual responsibility is perhaps the most divisive in the conversation about our food. Plant-based diets are all the rage in 2020, the culmination of a decade-long trend that some estimate has caused the number of vegans in the U.S. and U.K. to increase sixfold, alongside steadily growing vegetarian populations. Restaurants and businesses are under more pressure than ever to ensure that they have options available for every diet, and financial powerhouses around the world have thrown their capital at start-ups whose goal it is to revolutionize the food industry.

Why are we observing sudden momentum of a formerly fringe movement, and how has a former counterculture burst into the mainstream? A whole host of reasons abound, from ethical beliefs to personal taste, but public awareness about climate change has been a principal driving force. Major films such as Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and the investigative documentaries “Food, Inc. and “Cowspiracy have revealed information about industrial processes that many have found unethical and disturbing.

Vegan ingredients are sandwiched between panini bread on a black table.
A white bowl of quinoa and other vegan ingredients.

In addition to treating animals inhumanely, industry giants have had to push the Earth to its limits to meet the demand of so many meat-eaters. To visit one point made in the above films, meat production requires massive amounts of water compared to plant-based agriculture. It takes almost 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of edible beef, whereas one pound of tofu requires about 300 gallons. According to one UN report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” keeping animals for dairy production similarly contributes to environmental degradation. In 2010, a follow-up report urged a “global move” to meat- and dairy-free diets, in order to curtail climate catastrophe and prevent food shortages.

So will your tempeh stir-fry save the planet? How about your almond milk latte? For now, the best we can say is that on an individual scale, you will be hurting the planet much less. In the future, the best we can hope is that veganism becomes a global trend, something that one member of Oxford University’s Martin Programme on the Future of Food thinks could save $1.1 trillion in health care costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds. But the crux of the issue, and the reason that we have initiatives like World Vegan Day, is that veganism is not only about the individual. Rather, it is about responsibility becoming the standard across the board, so that the entities capable of making a real difference are motivated to do so. In light of the recent news, this is not the time to be a free rider — corporations and governments are starting to get the message, but there is always more work to be done.

A sandwich wrap of vegan ingredients including falafel.

Of course, the travel industry is no stranger to conversations about responsibility. I’m sure that every traveler wants to leave nothing but footprints wherever they go, and I don’t mean the carbon kind. Wanting to see more of our planet means accepting a duty to protect it. It is especially important to be conscious of our habits while traveling because it isn’t always easy and convenient to do the responsible thing, like using less plastic or even eating healthy. However, making a commitment to do better could have some convenient knock-on effects, and sometimes even be cheaper. While veganism sometimes catches criticism as a “fad diet” in which only the wealthy of the Global North and West would indulge, the widespread appeal of vegan cuisine puts that theory to rest: a tour of the world’s vegan hotspots will transport you to Mexico City’s taquerias, Warsaw’s markets, Tel Aviv’s cafés, and Singapore’s hawkers.

Ready to make the change to veganism, but not exactly sure how? Thankfully, the diet’s trendiness and the community’s passion mean that resources abound for new vegans. Whether you’ve got a sweet tooth, the travel bug, or a competitive streak, there is a vegan out there who has figured out how to get you the fuel you need. For vegan travel inspiration, turn to Passion Passport’s very own Camille Danielich, otherwise known as @herethereand. Her journeys around the world have not been at all hindered by her diet, as many people on the fence about veganism might believe they would be. On the contrary, a look at her Instagram demonstrates how this commitment has enhanced and enriched those experiences. Other noteworthy vegan travelers include Justin P. Moore (@lotusartichoke), whose cookbooks have taken him to the far corners of the Earth where the diet thrives, and Ashley Hubbard (@asoutherngypsy), a hometown hero of mine who raises awareness for veganism as a critical aspect of sustainable travel.

Roasted vegetables lie on a round plate next to a small bowl of sauce.
A dish of purple vegan ingredients rests on a wooden tray.

After all, even if you want to go vegan for no reason other than to improve your health, I guarantee that after you make the change, you will find yourself thinking more about your overall relationship with the planet. In this day and age, that kind of awareness and willingness to evaluate where we stand is absolutely critical, and taking a lifestyle leap of faith is the quickest way to learn what’s most important to you. I’m only a vegetarian myself, but when I changed my diet a little over a year ago, I would never have imagined myself becoming as invested in environmental issues as I now am — that extra knowledge just comes with the territory, and who doesn’t like learning new things?

Do you have experiences with veganism that you’d like to share, or advice for people “on the fence”? Write to us in the comments below!