plant based for the planet
for a few months now I’ve gone back and forth between writing this blog, getting ready to post it, then holding off for a bit longer. for the most part I tend to keep quiet on issues that may make people uncomfortable, ‘ruffle some feathers’ or get a rise out of people, but now more than ever I truly want to open up and share a bit of insight into why exactly I am plant based and why it is soooo important to me.
lately I’ve been putting a lot of thought into my personal choices towards eating plant based and its meaning and importance in my own life. for something that now feels more natural than ever, I want to share my journey of adopting this lifestyle in hopes to get others thinking more critically about it as well. it has now been four and a half years since becoming vegetarian and almost two years since going fully plant based/vegan. so why did I decide to cut meat from my diet back in university? and why now have I chosen to go fully plant based? while holistic nutrition and fuelling my body for trail running, outdoor adventures and life in general is a massive passion of mine, there is a greater reason behind it all. and while I could certainly go into greater detail of the long list of benefits I’ve found in adopting a plant based diet, I’ll stick to the main topic of this post. for me, the driving force to eliminating meat from my diet over four years ago was a conscious environmental effort to reduce my overall carbon footprint and take greater care for the planet.
back in my first year of university, I dabbled with vegetarianism when I began to learn about the alarming negative impacts meat and dairy had on the environment. speaking with transparency, I also tried cutting meat from my diet during this time as another way to restrict certain foods while having disordered eating patterns. during this period, I knew it wasn’t mentally healthy or sustainable for me to be following any specific food guidelines so I momentarily held off going fully plant based to focus on my eating disorder recovery. however, I was still so drawn to this lifestyle knowing that what I put on my plate was directly impacting the health of our planet.
while in university, studying for a bachelor’s degree in ecotourism and outdoor leadership, I began to take a closer look into the world of sustainability. while focusing on sustainable travel, ecotourism, and environmental sciences, I couldn’t help but also look more closely at how the food we consumed directly affected the planet. during this time, I so vividly remember the frustration and hopelessness I felt seeing others care very little about environmental issues. even little things like not recycling, buying bottled water, keeping all the lights on in the house, driving two blocks down the road and consistently opting for daily conveniences that would negatively impact the planet. I felt heavy and helpless thinking so many people just simply didn’t care. in a small effort to adopt more sustainable practices in my own life, I remember digging through the garbages of my house for recycled goods my housemates didn’t put in the green bins, timing myself to take shorter showers to avoid water waste, continually shutting lights off in the house, and still to this day having never owned a vehicle and instead using my two feet, bike commuting most days, and carpooling as a way to get around.
**please note: I share these experiences, but don’t claim to be perfect in any sense. I fly during my travels (a massive carbon footprint), there are times I have to borrow my parents car, have forgotten my reusable coffee cup, or purchase something in single use plastic. there are many ways I can still improve in my own way to adopt a more environmentally conscious lifestyle and it will be a life long journey of commitment, education and awareness. we are all human and just need to try out best by putting an honest effort to live more environmentally conscious.
during this time, as my personal research and understanding of animal agriculture grew and I simultaneously went through recovery of an eating disorder, I knew it was in my best interest and in the best interest of our planet that taking meat off of my plate was the next step forward.
‘If we are trying to reduce our car use, limit the amount of water we waste, become more ‘energy-efficient’ and generally lessen our environmental impact, we must also examine the most important factor of our personal ecological footprint: what we eat.’ (Scarborough, 2014).
after cutting all meat out of my diet, I dabbed in and out with dairy. I was already drinking nut milks, rarely bought cheese (it was expensive on a student budget) and found myself only rarely consuming dairy products. I continued eating vegetarian for almost three years but desired to fully transition to veganism. like many, I had a list of reasons why veganism would ‘have to wait’. I thought I would be of inconvenience to those around me or that I would be so limited in my food choices. but now the longer I’ve been vegan, the more I’ve realized how wrong far from the truth all that was. it feels more natural to me then ever before, eating at restaurants or while traveling is a lot easier than most would think, and I certainly don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. there have also been times I cringed with the mention of the word ‘vegan’ for fear of judgement from others or people think I’m judging them for not being vegan. however, I never wish that to be the case. even as I share these thoughts and experiences now, I never intend to judge people based on their choices, but instead I hope to possibly inspire change and shed light on some of the realities of how what we eat can directly enhance or destroy the health of the planet.
while transitioning to veganism, so much else clicked for me. a better understanding of animal welfare, personally feeling the healthiest, most vibrant, and strongest I have ever before, and ultimately feeling more connected to nature. while I would love to speak at length to each of these topics, I will to stick to the main topic of this post and right now, and knowing I can do something to directly help the health of the planet at such a fragile time of our current climate crisis is paramount.
through my own research, I’ve dug up many scientific articles and news that have continued to lay out the evidence of how plant based eating and reducing our meat consumption is incredibly beneficial to the sustainability of our environment. by adopting more sustainable eating habits, we can directly and drastically help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and land used for factory farming which all factor into environmental degradation. as a way to hopefully inspire others to take action and think more critically about what’s on their plate, I wanted to share some links and different articles I came across in the section below.
Educate Your Self:
“research consistently shows that drastically reducing animal food intake and mostly eating plant foods is one of the most powerful things you can do to reduce your impact on the planet over your lifetime, in terms of energy required, land used, greenhouse gas emissions, water used and pollutants produced” (Drayer, 2019).
If you read anything please read the amazing article by Greenpeace from their Less is More campaign. you can click on the ‘learn more’ button under “Less is More” photo.
Here is another great article explaining why so many big environmental organizations such as the UN, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund and more, are saying outright how what we eat is vital to the health of our planet.
“The effect of meat and dairy production on biodiversity is staggering. Since 1970, the earth has lost half of its wildlife but tripled its livestock population. Intensive meat and dairy production is a major driver of deforestation, dead zones in the oceans, and degradation of freshwater bodies globally” (Tirado et al., 2018).
‘As many studies show, the food required to feed a cow far surpasses the amount of food available for human consumption from the actual cow. In fact, over half of the world’s crops are used to feed animals, not people. The amount of water used in animal agriculture is also increasingly growing, as well as the greenhouse gases emitted from the '
some Quick FACTS:
1.5 acres of land can produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based food. 1.5 acres of land can produce 375 pounds of beef. (Oppenlander, 2013).
Direct GHG emissions from the agriculture sector account for 24% of all global emissions, and livestock emissions (including land-use change) account for 14%, which is comparable to the emissions from the whole transport sector (Smith et al., 2014).
Producing a little more than 2 pounds of beef causes more greenhouse-gas emissions than driving a car for three hours and uses up more energy than leaving your house lights on for the same period of time (Fanelli, D. 2007).
For one 150g hamburger, 2350 litres of water is used (Ercin et al. 2011). This means that every time you buy a hamburger, you could also have run the shower for 4.5 hours straight.
By transitioning to a plant based diet you could reduce your personal emission of greenhouse gasses by 60% then if you’d continue eating animal product (Scarborough, 2014).
where to start? take action!
I’ll say it here. start small. it can be disheartening to began looking further into and understanding our environmental footprint and the current health of our planet. just the same, it can be increasingly daunting to try implementing new lifestyles changes around the way we eat, especially in a society where we have been conditioned to eat in a way that so heavily revolves around the importance of meat and dairy in our diets. but don’t let that scare you.
start with ‘meatless monday’s’ or maybe omitting red meat from your diet (one of the biggest culprits).
find new plant foods you enjoy and share them with others around you.
support your local farmers markets and enjoy eating fruits and vegetables seasonally.
have fun creating new plant based recipes and get inspired. look up new recipes on pinterest and food blogs.
eat simply, say gratitude before your meal, and eat mindfully. when you connect with the food on your plate and really begin to reflect on how it got there - the time, energy, and farmers involved in the process - you can will naturally become more in tune with the environment.
think of transitioning to a ‘flexitarian’ where you eat with the intent of being primarily plant based, but are flexible with including some meat or dairy into your diet. even limiting your consumption of meat and dairy opposed to going all in right away can largely reduce your overall environmental impact. this could begin the journey towards transitioning to fully plant based down the road.
ultimately everyone needs to decide how they choose to live and not everyone has the privilege of choosing to eat fully plant based. however, I hope in some way these words, resources and my own story have been able to shed some light on a topic that is of increasing importance to me. my hope is that through this you can begin to think more critically about the food on your plate.
one of the biggest struggles with reducing animal consumption is certainly the challenge of going through a massive societal shift where meat and dairy has played such a large role in our cultural diets. however, I’m optimistic and believe that through public awareness and education we can continue moving towards more sustainable practices that will not only increase our own health, vitality, and wellbeing, but that of the entire planet.
so with all of that said and done, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this article and I truly hope that these words make you think and possibly take action.
Daniele Fanelli, “Meat Is Murder on the Environment,” New Scientist 18 (2007). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378014000338#sec0050
Drayer, L. (2019). Change your diet to combat climate change in 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/18/health/plant-based-diet-climate-change-food-drayer/index.html
Ercin, E., Martinez-Aldaya, M., & Hoekstra, A. Y. (2011). The water footprint of soy milk and soy burger and equivalent animal products. (Value of water research report 49; No. 49). Delft, the Netherlands: Unesco-IHE Institute for Water Education.
Hoekstra (2014). Water for animal products. https://waterfootprint.org/media/downloads/Hoekstra-2014-Water-for-animal-products_1.pdf
International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production,” United Nations Environment Programme 2010.
Marco Springmann, Michael Clark, Daniel Mason-D’Croz, Keith Wiebe, Benjamin Leon Bodirsky, Luis Lassaletta, Wim de Vries, Sonja J. Vermeulen, Mario Herrero, Kimberly M. Carlson, Malin Jonell, Max Troell, Fabrice DeClerck, Line J. Gordon, Rami Zurayk, Peter Scarborough, Mike Rayner, Brent Loken, Jess Fanzo, H. Charles J. Godfray, David Tilman, Johan Rockström & Walter Willett. Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits (2018). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0594-0
Oppenlander, Richard A. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. Minneapolis, MN : Langdon Street, 2013. Print.
Scarborough, P., Appleby, P.N., Mizdrak, A. et al. Climatic Change (2014). Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. 125: 179. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1
Smith P., M. Bustamante, H. Ahammad, H. Clark, H. Dong, E.A. Elsiddig, H. Haberl, R. Harper, J. House, M. Jafari, O. Masera, C. Mbow, N.H. Ravindranath, C.W. Rice, C. Robledo Abad, A. Romanovskaya, F. Sperling, and F. Tubiello, (2014). Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, US https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter11.pdf
Tirado, R., Thompson, K.F., Miller, K.A., Johnston, (2018). Less is more: Reducing meat and dairy for a healthier life and planet. Greenpeace Research Laboratories Technical Report (Review) 03-2018. ISBN: 978-1-9999978-1-6. 86 pp. https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-international-stateless/2018/03/6942c0e6-longer-scientific-background.pdf
UNEP (2010) Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials, A Report of the Working Group on the Environmental Impacts of Products and Materials to the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management. Hertwich, E., van der Voet, E., Suh, S., Tukker, A., Huijbregts M., Kazmierczyk, P., Lenzen, M., McNeely, J., Moriguchi, Y. http://www.unep.fr/shared/publications/pdf/dtix1262xpa-priorityproductsandmaterials_report.pdf