It’s official: 2019 will be the year of the plant-based diet – the inevitable lifestyle choice of and for the future. Now more than ever before, what we choose to eat affects every aspect of our lives. Food itself stands as the nexus between health and environment, and our choices matter.
A steady stream of recent analyses has driven this nexus, indicating that the health of our planet depends on what we eat, shouting at us to consume less meat and more plant food. Vegans have finally found their moment, and it’s none too soon. Mother Earth is not a happy camper, as Forbes writes. She’s being mistreated, and now she’s fighting back with extreme weather, drought, fire, and flooding. As the magazine states, the most effective way to save the planet is to go plant-based.
Research Busting Through
This huge report published in Science magazine last June, (Poore and Nemecek), and highlighted in the news as “the biggest analysis to date,” showed that shifting away from meat and dairy is the single most effective way to preserve the planet and regenerate our ecosystems. And the sustainable diet parade keeps marching. This month (January, 2019), The EAT-Lancet Commission has proposed their global planetary health diet. This multidisciplinary group of more than 30 leading scientists, in planetary sciences, agriculture and nutrition, state that “a diet that includes more plant-based foods and fewer animal source foods is healthy, sustainable, and good for both people and planet,” as reported in the Associated Press, Lancet, and the New York Times.
Canada ushered in year with their updated dietary guidelines for 2019. It’s plant-based, with a plate emphasizing protein from plant sources and advise to avoid saturated fats (which come primarily form meat, eggs and dairy). Oh, and missing is the familiar glass of milk.
“It is not a question of all or nothing, but rather small changes for a large and positive impact,” says Dr. Walter Willett and his Eat-Lancet team. We’re not talking radical change here. Simply increasing fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and limiting meat and dairy can drive demand and signal markets to take the high road in response. We consumers make a move, and agriculture and industry transform to meet us.
It’s Getting Gassy
Not surprisingly, a driving force of climate change is the impact of livestock. Ruminants emit methane and carbon dioxide through their digestion, and being big, they demand a lot of feed, which means a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. On top of that, it simply takes excessive energy to process any animal, eggs, or milk into food.
On the flip side, the rewards of eating plants over animals are simply too great to be shoved under the radar any longer. A diet filled with fiber-packed food that avoids meat, eggs, and dairy, not only uses less resources, (fertilizer, land, and water), but also controls greenhouse gas emissions.
Lucky for us overfed humans, the clear way to safety is simply eating lower on the food chain. It’s also the most efficient way to shed pounds and control chronic disease, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many cancers. Why wouldn’t we take heed if both our health and our planet depend on it?
Many plant-based trends now have firm roots, including Meatless Monday in schools, insanely delicious plant-based artesian cheeses in grocery coolers, and beef alternatives at most restaurants. Beyond Meat recently secured huge financial backing from Bill Gates and Tyson Foods; General Mills has invested in Kite Hill vegan cheeses, and plant milks are now 40 percent of the total milk and milk alternative market. This is getting huge.
The cavalcade of celebrities declaring their plant-based life includes vegan newbies Lewis Hamilton and Robbie Williams, and star vegans Beyoncé, Ellen, Moby, Ariana Grande, Natalie Portman, Peter Dinklage, and Benedict Cumberbatch, to name a few. They know they’ll look their best eating this way. Maybe that’s why veganism is at an all-time high in both England and the United States.
Waiting for Change
Our time to preserve our planet is now. It can’t wait for later. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared at the end of 2018 that we have roughly a dozen years to save ourselves from the worst effects of climate change. How long do you think it will take to pass laws to transform the energy infrastructure of the world? We can’t wait for our leaders to do it all for us. We need to make a transition now, and it starts with what’s on our plates. Our changes as consumers will drive changes in government – changes to support green energy development, and subsidies for farmers who want to transition to clean agriculture.
2019 started with Veganuary, a campaign inviting people to try the plant-based lifestyle. Now is the time for your personal Veganuary. Remember, we don’t have a planet B. We’ve got to preserve the one we have. So eat like your life depends on it, and mind your Mother Earth.
Poore J, Nemecek T. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science. 2018;360(6392):987-992.