"Because food systems are a major driver of poor health and environmental degradation, global efforts are urgently needed to collectively transform diets and food production."
- The Lancet (Medical science journal)
Nowadays you’d be hard pushed to find a vegetable garden near your home. Instead of natural foods, many of us have spent years of our lives eating refined sugars, fats, oils and products that overwhelm our agricultural industry, such as beef. Not only has this reliance on processed foods and high-volume meat production begun to negatively affect our health, it’s also having a detrimental impact on our planet. Environmental scientists have predicted that if our agricultural patterns continue, greenhouse gas emissions could increase by up to 80% by the year 2050; a frightening prediction that is already looking to become a reality.
Luckily, more people than ever are talking about how to reverse these exhaustive systems, innovate when it comes to food production, and experiment with a more plant-based diet. Studies have looked at the health impacts of the standard omnivorous diet that many people have grown up with, and compared it to Mediterranean, pescatarian and vegetarian diets to see how they measure up. They found that switching to a diet with less meat could reduce the chances of developing type 2 diabetes by about 25%, cancer by around 10%, and the chance of death from heart disease by about 20%.
It’s clear that there are many benefits to be enjoyed from eating even just a little less meat than you’re used to, and if you can drastically cut down, that could prove to be even better. In the past it was rather difficult to find non-meat options in your local supermarket, as pre-packaged meals often include meat as standard. Recently though, there has been significant growth in plant-based alternatives. Brands are popping up in supermarkets and restaurants offering vegetarian and vegan options that are close to meat in taste and texture. The industry is booming, so much so that plant-based brand Beyond Meat recently saw their shares skyrocket by more than 600% since their hugely successful IPO in early May this year.
Of course, it’s not just about eating less meat; to create a more sustainable planet we must consider the amount of waste we are producing, and improve our farming technology, but if more people switch to a plant-based diet, it is likely that this could solve a lot of our planet’s problems.
Why does eating too much meat cause harm to the environment?
Research shows that the production of beef causes more than 100 times the emissions that the production of legumes would create, due to the amount of grains required to simply feed the livestock that produces it. When we really think about it, the water, land and fertilizer required to grow those grains is recycled through the production of meat, when it could instead be directly consumed by us. If you feel that this is unnecessary, wasteful and pointless, you’re not alone.
Furthermore, research from The Lancet has concluded that eating a plant-based diet could help alleviate hunger in other areas of the world, reduce the impacts of climate change, save water, and minimise agricultural land use. A no brainer, perhaps?
What if you’re not ready to be vegetarian?
The key thing to remember about eating a plant-based diet is that it is plant based, meaning you don’t have to go completely vegetarian to have a positive impact on the planet and reap the health benefits. The term ‘flexitarian’ has recently become mainstream, and while vegetarians tend to cut out meat produce altogether, flexitarians do not limit meat to the same extent. Whether it’s meat-free Mondays or choosing to only eat meat on weekends, you can improve both your health and the health of the planet by reducing the amount of meat you eat on a weekly basis. Replacing your usual meals with more fruits, veggies, legumes, soybeans, nuts, and a smaller portion of meat or fish means you’re doing your part for the planet and your body, without going cold turkey (so to speak).