First up on my list of reasons why I promote a whole food, plant-based diet will be focused on the environmental impacts our diet choices have on our planet.
I stand with registered dietitian Brenda Davis when she says, “To be truly optimal, [our] diet must be ecologically sustainable and ethically justifiable,” beyond being healthy for our bodies. It’s very important that we bring some conscious thought and awareness to our daily food choices-for us, for the planet, and for the animals. All of our choices, even our daily food choices, have consequences.
For these reasons, I am firm in my decision to follow and help others to adopt a plant-based diet. For many, that could mean not consuming any animal products. For others, it could mean eating mostly plants with some meat or dairy very occasionally. Either way, I believe reducing our meat consumption will have a huge impact on the planet and all the humans on it. A plant-based diet has been proven to be a health-promoting diet for humans and beneficial for the environment and the creatures living here.
Ready to hear more? Let’s dive in.
1. If the rest of the world lived (and ate) like Americans, we would need 4.1 Earths.
This is assuming we could use all of earth’s land except for Antarctica. You may want to read that again to let it sink in. Americans make up just 5 percent of the global population yet consume 15 percent of the world’s meat.
Livestock production uses 45 percent of the earth’s total land. I bring this up to point out that the planet cannot support 7.5 billion carnivores! When I hear people promoting the idea of switching to grass-fed beef, I applaud them for wanting to improve the lives the animals live before slaughter. But I also have to point out that we don’t have the land to raise all of the cows we consume for food on pasture only. Not unless we greatly reduce our consumption of beef. This may sound harsh but I find grass-fed beef to be a bit elitist. It is expensive and not an option for many people either because of cost or availability. It doesn’t jive with me to promote a way of eating that many would not be able to follow easily. You can find rice, beans, and greens just about anywhere and at a low price.
As more countries continue to adopt the western way of eating, the more land that has to be used for raising animals for food. This contributes to deforestation and extinction of animals and their habitats which is quite devastating. These things have consequences.
2. Scientists say greenhouse gas emissions will increase 80% by 2050.
Studies have shown that if the world were to adopt a vegan diet or variations of it, not only would our health be increased. Our global greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced. The emissions reduced would be equal to the emissions of all cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships!
Isn’t that wild?!
The Worldwatch Institute has said that livestock production is responsible for 51 percent of global greenhouse gases. Methane is a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide but its heat-trapping effects are 23 times greater than CO2. And cows produce about 150 billion gallons of it per day through their farts and waste! I think cows are wonderful, but on a hot day, I don’t want to be thinking about how it’s cow farts keeping me warm.
*Ahem* Moving on.
When it comes to things such as water and land that are needed to produce a certain amount of meat or dairy, most of that is for growing the crops to feed the animals. Wouldn’t it make more sense to be using that land and water to grow fruits, vegetables, and grains instead? More food would be produced this way which means we could protect the world from hunger.
–>The greenhouse gas emissions per gram of beef and lamb are 250x that of the same amount of legumes.
–>The production of 20 servings of vegetables produces fewer greenhouse emissions than just 1 serving of beef.
–>It takes 660 gallons of water to produce 1 hamburger. That’s about 2 months worth of showers.
–>1 pound of beef requires around 2,500 gallons of water to produce. (This number ranges from about 500 gallons to 8,000 gallons but 2,500 is highly cited).
–>1 gallon of cow’s milk requires 1,950 gallons of water.
–>On the plant side of things, 1 pound of tofu requires 302 gallons of water to produce.
–>1 pound of oats requires 290 gallons of water to produce.
3. We could see fishless oceans by 2048.
My favorite animal ever since I was a kid has been the orca whale. Any Free Willy fans out there?! The ocean is a wild, diverse place that unfortunately has been the victim of our lifestyle. Much of the waste and pollution from raising animals for food ends up in waterways, oceans, and streams. This indirectly hurts much of the ocean life.
Another issue facing ocean life is overfishing. For every one pound of fish caught, 5 pounds of unintended marine life is also caught in the nets-and discarded. Scientists estimate as many as 650,000 whales, dolphins and seals are also killed every year by fishing vessels. That right there just breaks my heart. But beyond my emotions, this has real environmental impacts. This loss of biodiversity contributes to ocean dead zones, poor water quality, and coastal flooding. One study found that “unless humans act now, seafood may disappear by 2048”. The biodiversity of our planet is important and if nothing changes, we won’t have much left.
4. Plant-based diets benefit the planet.
Our current food system is not efficient in any way. I believe there is hope though. I certainly don’t blame any one person or corporation for the way things have gotten. A big problem is a lack of transparency about the true cost of animal products. That’s something I would like to see change. A shift to being more aware of what we are eating and how that food came to be. With that awareness, hopefully, more people will choose to fill their plates up with more plants and less meat.
To finish this off, here are a few statistics about how adopting a predominantly plant-based or vegan diet can benefit this planet:
–>The amount of land needed to feed one person per year on a vegan diet is 1/6th acre.
–>A vegetarian would need 3x that. A meat eater would need 18x that of a vegan.
–>1.5 acres can produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based food or 1.5 acres can produce 375 pounds of beef.
–>Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life.