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Plant Based Diets – Why Are They Better For The Planet?

One of my previous articles highlighted the main things we can do to help fight climate change and at the top of that list was changing our diet. Meat and dairy and their production (in terms of grazing land and/or growing crops for animal feed) accounts for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

Some people may doubt these statistics but is this really something we can avoid considering when there is so much scientific evidence about it? Possibly yes, because we tend to believe what we want to hear and ignore what we don’t want to change, we are human, after all! Remember though, this is scientific evidence, not marketing and not just “armchair expertise” on social media! It can be very confusing when we are bombarded with conflicting information. For example, when livestock farmers suggest that grass-fed beef, is really good for the planet and that worries about their methane emissions are a hoax . Obviously, I have sympathy for farmers, but not for the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) – intensively reared animals as we would understand, which have been in this country for a few years now. Compassion in World Farming have great concerns about this but many of the major supermarkets are stocking this beef and state that it’s being driven by demand – which means us, the consumer. In addition, I’m sure that many of you now know that pandemics like COVID-19 have happened as a direct result of human beings destroying the natural world at the rate we’re doing and encroaching on wildlife habitats. What a lot of people have yet to put together unfortunately, is how their own behaviour is contributing to this; we’re all part of a huge jigsaw puzzle with interlinking parts so, for example, just concentrating on how much plastic you can cut down, although really important, pales in comparison to the amount of damage that eating lots of meat and dairy is causing to the planet – and that’s a cold, hard fact.

Happily, millions of people have already become meat-reducers over the past few years, and there are great benefits even from a flexitarian diet – but most of the world’s population still eats a lot of meat, in fact way too much meat.

I believe we now understand because of informative documentaries on the television and in the media, that eating plants is a far more efficient use of our planet’s limited resources. We’re basically growing loads of food to feed animals and then eating the animals rather than just growing the food directly for our consumption. It’s illogical given the size of the Earth’s human population and our hopes for future generations to come, that we don’t encourage one another to change. The buck stops with each one of us – here – and now. Giving far more consideration to what we buy, where it comes from and what we consume.

So . . . what are the scientific facts?

One of the comments I hear on social media is that grass-fed cows release less greenhouse gases, than intensively reared animals – THIS IS COMPLETELY UNTRUE because in actual fact they release more methane into the atmosphere than intensively reared animals who only feed on grain (which is easier for them to digest). In addition to this, intensively reared animals live shorter lives, lives devoid of stimulus, all crammed together. It’s also said that because cows burp out methane (which is a short-lived greenhouse gas comparatively speaking, only staying in the atmosphere for 9-12 years) that it’s not an issue. Quite apart from the fact that methane has 23 times the heating effect of carbon dioxide, if we all ate a lot less meat, it would have a significant impact on cutting global warming in the short term – and this is without considering the terrible and continuing destruction of vital rainforest in areas of the world, particularly in South America where it’s estimated that the Amazon only has about thirty years before it changes permanently to savannah.

Another comment is about soya being destructive. Over 96% of the soya from the Amazon is actually fed to animals around the world according to the United Nations and it’s largely genetically modified. As such, the soya we eat is only about 4% of the total amount grown which is a sobering thought!

Over the years, many people have asked what would happen to animals if everyone stopped eating meat. Many of them would still be eaten (approximately 124,000 animals are slaughtered for meat across the world every second). It’s possible, in my opinion, the remaining animals such as sheep and goats would still be farmed for their wool, perhaps the rest would end up in heritage breed centres! In all the time I’ve been a plant eater, people have regularly asked me what I eat and how I get enough protein? In fact many meat-eaters are eating about 30- 50% more protein than they actually need (most of our energy needs should be coming from complex carbohydrates and fats, the latter being crucial for healthy hormone function), plus protein requirements can easily be met from plant–based sources. It’s an earnest question though, but one that’s based on an age-old mind set and culture that promotes meat and dairy as good for us. The scientific evidence disagrees, especially where red meat is concerned. Poorer nations don’t eat anywhere near as much meat to begin with. People sometimes ask what would happen to livestock farmers if the world stopped eating meat and dairy? Taxpayers the world over subsidise livestock farming and interestingly this is not the case for other foodstuffs. It would be great if those subsidies could be used instead for sustainable food production and projects like rewilding, planting trees which could give livestock farmers a crucial role.

So, what can you do to change?

Well, first of all remember that a lot of this is just about changing habits. I’m probably a good example as I’ve had little choice about changing some things about my diet due to a milk allergy plus a few food intolerances. I have found that I can pretty much adjust to anything, given a bit of time. If you’re a devoted meat-eater, and want to do your bit for the planet, then small steps are going to be the best way forward. Try going without meat one day a week and gradually reduce your intake from there. Avoiding beef, lamb and goat meats would be helpful because cows, sheep and goats emit the most methane into the atmosphere. There are some amazing recipes for vegetarian, flexitarian, vegan meals which will be an eye-opener. People think that non-meat meals are boring and limited when in actual fact, they’re extremely varied.

It’s a fantastic time to change over to plant milks. There’s a huge selection available these days to choose from: soya (make sure it’s European soya and that it’s preferably organic); oat, almond, rice, cashew (which is quite expensive but probably tastes the most like cow’s milk). Plant milks can be used in exactly the same ways as cow’s milk – to cook, bake or whatever, and they taste just as good. It’s all about finding the product that you like best. Any recipe can be adapted to a meat-free version.

There are probably loads on Facebook as we speak! I hope this is all helpful. If you want some advice, don’t hesitate to contact me via my Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/howtoliveagreenerlife

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