- Why Going Plant-based is Such a Big Deal
- A Guilt-free Lifestyle: Getting Started with a Plant-based Diet
- Your Health: Breaking Down the Science Behind Plant-based Diets
- Switching to Plant-based: How You Really Help
- The Bottom Line
Why Going Plant-based is Such a Big Deal
Transitioning to a plant-based diet is great for your health, and it is also one of the best things you can do for the environment.
“When you make a choice between any two competing ingredients or meals, you’re making important choices that cascade through the global landscape,” says Gidon Eshel, PhD, a researcher who focuses on geophysics, climatology, and agricultural environmental efficiency at Bard College, in an article from wellness site, Forks Over Knives.
In our previous post about the truth about plant-based alternatives and the effect on the planet, we explained the impacts of the trend on gas emissions, water conservation, and deforestation. In this piece, we will dive into more ways that choosing plant-based alternatives ultimately impacts the planet.
Agriculture: Plant-based Alternatives are More Efficient
One of the clearest reasons why a plant-based diet is better for the planet comes down to agriculture and efficiency. Eating plants—instead of eating animals who ultimately eat plants—reduces the enormous environmental burden that goes along with animal agriculture.
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, FACLM, co-author with Mark Bittman of How to Eat, explains this concept. Producing animals for food “introduces a major extra step of waste relative to the efficiency of us just eating the plant foods directly,” Katz says. “If you just eat the plants, you cut out the middleman.”
Farming: Why Plant-based Production Requires Less Land
According to researcher Christopher Gardner, PhD, who studies human nutrition and food systems at Stanford University, 415 million acres, or 18 percent of all U.S. land, is dedicated as permanent pastures to raise livestock.
Why is this significant?
As we discussed in our previous post, deforestation and livestock production in general are the most significant drivers of habitat loss. We are all a part of a global supply chain, so it is important to understand the land where products and consumables are derived. In the Amazon, where the rainforest plays an integral role in regulating the world’s oxygen and carbon cycles, cattle ranching accounts for 80 percent of deforestation rates.
In addition to the land needed for raising animals themselves, an immense amount of land is required to produce crops to feed the animals. In fact, the majority of cropland in the United States is not actually used to produce food that people will eat but to produce feed that animals will eat. Unfortunately, the majority of plant proteins produced domestically and abroad, are allocated to animal feed.
Choosing a plant-based diet and products like oat milk is a step in the right direction to put less strain on the environment across multiple dimensions and reduce the rate of deforestation and inefficient land-use.
Cleansing Pollution with Plant-based Diets
Water is one of the earth’s most precious resources, and tackling water pollution begins with transitioning to a plant-based diet.
While it may not be obvious to the average consumer, animal agriculture interrupts our waterways. When cattle graze, they accelerate soil erosion, which stymies streams and wetlands. Excrement and chemicals from industrial farmed animals can run off and contaminate surrounding streams, rivers, lakes and ponds, and eventually poison groundwater.
Fertilizers, fuel, and pesticides used to farm crops for animal feed can also poison water supplies. The impact on the environment is significant. Excess nitrogen runoff from fertilizers inevitably reaches waterways and stimulates the growth of algae. Unfortunately, as algae decomposes, it depletes oxygen in the water, killing off marine life and creating “death zones.”
It is important to understand how fragile ecosystems are affected by the choices we make as consumers, and opting for plant-based alternatives to animal-based food is one way to reduce rates of global pollution in communities.
Carbon Dioxide & Greenhouse Gases: Why Being Plant-based Helps
When it comes to animal agriculture, the main contributor of greenhouse gases are cows, which are responsible for about 65 percent of the livestock sector’s emissions. It is difficult to quantify the drastic effect these emissions have on our climate.
We do know that the climate-altering carbon emissions associated with a single gram of protein from beef are at least 7.5 times higher than those associated with a gram of protein from plant-based sources, according to Nutrition Reviews.
Not only does livestock add to environmentally harmful carbon dioxide emissions, the deforestation associated with livestock production has a negative impact as well. Trees also release carbon dioxide when they are cut down. Overall, deforestation accounts for about 10 percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, and specifically, cattle ranching makes up an estimated 80 percent of all deforestation.
A Guilt-Free Lifestyle: Getting Started with a Plant-Based Diet
As the global population grows, so does demand for food. Having more people means there is a larger need for more calories and nutrition from farmers and food producers. And that, in turn, means that there is an increased strain on the planet to provide sufficient water, space, plant nutrients, and, of course, an ideal climate to produce more food. When it comes to planet limitations, there’s no escaping the truth that the current trajectory is unsustainable.
In realizing this, farmers and scientists, alike, are innovating ways to produce food more efficiently. You as a consumer play a critical role in driving more sustainable outcomes for future generations.
Living a plant-based lifestyle is a win for environmental sustainability that you can adopt on a daily basis. To make an even bigger impact, choose whole, unprocessed foods that are sourced locally when local conditions permit.
How can you get started? Shop for seasonal produce in biodegradable, compostable packaging—or better yet, no packaging at all. And aim to reduce food waste by shopping strategically and using what you have.
Your Health: Breaking Down the Science Behind Plant-based Diets
When you get started with a plant-based diet, you are doing the planet a favour, but you are also putting yourself in a position to gain rewarding health benefits and feel better every day.
According to this 2018 study, reductions in risk for developing chronic diseases are connected to adherence to plant-based diets. Researchers showed that when participants adopt a plant-based diet, they see improvements in their lipid profiles, including decreases in total cholesterol (TC), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), and triglycerides (TG). This is great news for your overall heart health. Other research has shown reduced visceral fat, improved oxidative stress markers, and insulin sensitivity among patients with diabetes.
Although research using plant-based vegan diets is less common and robust, experiments have resulted in a reduction in C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a marker of unhealthy inflammation, over the course of a 3-week period. Another 4-week research period showed that a plant-based diet reduced the total need medication use among participants, resulting from reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure and lipids.
Switching to Plant-based: How You Really Help
As more forests and wild lands are cleared to grow crops and raise livestock, the feeding, breeding and living habitats of numerous species also disappear. Unless we transition to plant-based alternatives and become more cognizant of what we eat and how it is produced, reports say the planet's ability to support humans could come under threat.
Collectively, switching to a plant-based diet is critical to preserving wildlife habitats we love and preventing the further loss of biodiversity and countless species of plants and animals that are currently facing extinction.
One of the core roots of the problem is cheap food, driven by consumer purchasing preferences.
While cut-priced comestibles may seem like a good thing in the short-term, purchasing such items causes many farmers to adopt unsustainable, inefficient agricultural methods that harm the environment and deplete resources. The study by researchers at UK think tank Chatham House notes that the race to lower prices increases food waste and degrades soils and ecosystems, making available land less productive. Everybody must play a part in addressing this challenge.
Good News: The Popularity of Plant-based Alternatives is on the Rise
Demand for plant-based foods could see annual growth of almost 12%, reaching a market value of more than $74 billion by 2027, according to a Meticulous Research forecast. While plant-based demand is increasing in most global markets, takeup in Asia-Pacific is expected to outstrip other regional markets.
Increasingly transparent supply chains, high-quality educational resources, and changing consumer aspirations are fueling a growing appetite among investors to back plant-based ventures. This is all good news, however, the speed of adoption of plant-based foods is unknown. We are all here to do our part.
The Bottom Line
Who knew a simple choice, such going with delicious, 100% plant-based oat milk for your coffee could have such a profound impact on the future of the planet?
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