Is there a relationship between our planet’s health and our dietary choices? If so, the question begs—how, and what is our role? Can we make different food choices, improve agricultural production, and reduce food waste? Unsurprisingly, the dietary choices we make largely influence climate change, land, water, and other planetary resources.
More and more people are adopting a plant-based diet, not only for health reasons but also to make a positive impact on the environment. However, how aware are Westerners regarding this relation to diet and its environmental impact? Well, most are not aware and did not show a willingness to know or accept that eating animal products contributes to climate change.
Studies done in several European and North American countries revealed that only a minority was aware of the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. People in the Netherlands were the most aware with 18% of its population claiming to be vegetarians, compared to 3% in the U.S. It was found that women were mostly willing to eat less meat for environmental reasons, and men much less.
It’s actually quite understandable. Meat is everywhere. Animal products show up as a part of our daily meals, menus, and grocery stores. Frozen meat in microwaveable packages is cheap, convenient, and easy. There seem to be more meaty options than vegetarian options and the vegetarian options are often more expensive.
In the long run, could eating less meat save money in the long run, and save money as a planet? I believe so.
Did you know…
- 19-29% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to food systems
- Meat production is responsible for 70% of all human water use, 80% of deforestation, and 30% of energy consumption
- In the U.S., 67% of plant calories produced are fed to animals
- Methane reduction is a quick way to help slow GHG emissions and global warming.
- In a 2006 report, the United Nations stated that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. (Wow!)
The Adventist Health Study (AHS-2) and the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Oxford (EPIC-Oxford)
The two most significant studies regarding the effects of a plant-based diet considered both the health and environmental effects of a plant-based and pescatarian diet. The studies concluded the following regarding the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, comparing vegetarian diets to non-vegetarian diets:
- Vegetarian diets in AHS-2 study = 29% less greenhouse gas emissions than non-vegetarian diets
- Vegetarian/vegan diets in EPIC-Oxford study = 47-60% less greenhouse gas emissions than non-vegetarian diets
One important thing to note as well is that a balanced plant-based diet reaps many more benefits than a “junk-food, plant-based diet,” i.e. a diet filled with processed, refined and sugary foods.
What Does Science Say?
Clear evidence has demonstrated that the foods we consume and produce are the main contributors of natural resource depletion and environmental degradation. Animal products, namely meat and dairy from cows, are the largest contributors to environmental degradation.
Logically, decreasing or eliminating meat in our diets could be the most significant way a single person could contribute to preventing environmental degradation. Progressive changes can lead to positive changes that lead to even more significant changes. The lifestyle choices we make are powerful.