For most of us, knowing how we can make choices that might help the environment can be overwhelming. But think of this: it takes about 1,700 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef—but just 39 gallons of water to produce a pound of vegetables.
While it may seem too good to be true, there’s a simple change that can improve your impact on our environment. Eat more plant-based foods instead of meat. This isn’t just another bold claim without substance, there’s science, studies and experts to back this.
Plant-based foods are a good example of a more sustainable food source. Sustainable food means that it has less of an impact on our planet and can be produced for a long time without creating large environmental concerns.
There are a few sustainability trends in the food industry - like nut-based milk and cheeses, and plant-based foods that can replace meat in your diet. This latter trend - plant-based foods - has gained momentum. There’s even a global movement, Meatless Mondays, that encourages people to make a shift toward this more sustainable food. How does it actually help the environment?
Water is a renewable resource but fresh, drinkable water isn’t readily available to much of the world. This makes conserving the clean water we have critical. While there are many communities that don’t have access to drinkable water, the production of livestock uses up one third of fresh water around the world.
Livestock production not only requires an enormous amount of water, it can pollutes water and surrounding land. If everyone in a country like the United States skipped meat one day a week, they could save 100 billion gallons of water a year.
Greenhouse gases threaten our environment. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, total greenhouse gas emissions from global livestock represents 14.5 percent of all human activity-related GHG emissions a year. That doesn’t include all of the transportation of livestock and related contributors to greenhouse gasses. Plants and vegetables have far less negative impact.
For comparison, beef generates about 30 pounds of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per pound. Broccoli generates just 2.2 pounds of CO2e. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, livestock waste seeps into the soil and water in close-by communities. This runoff can turn into nitric acid rain that can distribute harmful chemicals into the air we breath and onto the places we live. You can breathe easier when switching to plant-based foods knowing that farms growing plants and vegetables produce far fewer greenhouse gasses.
No one likes to waste space - like when apartments keep getting smaller and somehow more expensive. With issues such as deforestation and the destruction of wild animals’ habitats across the world, our global apartment is feeling a bit small. The way we’re using our planet right now isn’t sharing space in a way that leaves room for everyone.
Species such as orangutans, red pandas and sloths are in danger of going extinct due to deforestation, much of it to support additional livestock farmland. Time magazine reports that thirty percent of our planet’s usable surface is being used to grow food for the livestock that will become our food, or thrown away. Compared to plant food production, beef production required 160 times as much land. We just don’t need as much land to create plant-based foods for people.
Protein is a macronutrient that is crucial in building muscle and a great source of energy. It would be difficult to find an article, website or book on nutrition that doesn’t stress the importance of eating enough protein. Something you may not know about protein is that this macronutrient clues us in on the foods’ environmental impact.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that “As the concentration of protein increases in plant foods, so does the efficiency.” High protein, plant-based foods are efficient and sustainable. You can utilize these sources of nutrition by shopping for plant-based alternatives, such as the meals we offer at Arlene.
To get started in a simple and easy way, taking part in Meatless Monday is a great option. Meatless Monday is just like it sounds - making a modest commitment to eat less meat in the week. This can mean adopting a flexitarian diet. Participating in Meatless Mondays is a great start to help water and lower carbon emissions.
Numbers, statistics, studies and data surrounding the state of our environment can be disheartening. The problem can seem too big for any hope of having a personal impact. But small steps and decisions can add up. At Arlene, we like to think there’s still reason for optimism.
The production of plant-based foods uses land more responsibly and creates fewer emissions. Eating well can coincide with protecting our planet. Making the switch from a diet dependent on meat to one that includes meat in moderation doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. Our plant-based meals deliver flavor, nutritional value and the peace of mind that comes from supporting our planet’s health.
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