Mother Earth is not a happy camper these days. It seems that after decades of being mistreated, she’s finally fighting back. Look no further than the extreme weather we’ve experienced in the last year alone. Across the globe we’ve seen record-breaking hurricanes, floods, wildfires and drought. Watching clips of these events seems like a Hollywood blockbuster, not the evening news. And given the increasing severity of extreme weather each year, the hits are likely to keep on coming.
Thankfully, the world is waking up to the connection between human behaviour and our increasingly volatile planet. Whether it’s the Paris Climate Accord or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, world leaders and citizens are eagerly looking for solutions to stem the damage we’ve caused. According to researchers at Oxford University, we need to look no further than our dinner plates to "save the planet."
In what the Guardian called "the biggest analysis to date," researchers concluded that shifting away from meat and dairy is the single most effective way to regenerate our ecosystems and prevent its destruction.
Switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change, UN experts have said.
A major report on land use and climate change says the West's high consumption of meat and dairy produce is fuelling global warming.
Meat and dairy provide only 18% of our calories and 37% of our protein, yet use up 83% of our farmland.
Without meat and dairy consumptions, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% - an area equivalent to the U.S., China, the European Union and Australia combines - and still feed the world.
Since livestock production is the single largest contributor of emissions around the globe (more than planes, trains and cars combined), removing it from our food system could allow the planet to regenerate. Raising animals for food is also the largest contributor to wildlife extinction around the world. There no dancing around it, we're eating the planet one bite at a time.
''A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use," said Oxford's Joseph Poore, who led Guardian's most extensive research on this topic. "It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car," he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Consumer demand in this category is really picking up steam. The average growth rate of alternatives to meat and dairy increased 8.1% in 2017, according to Nielsen, while the traditional meat and dairy category experienced a small decline over the same time period. In the U.K., the number of people going vegan has increased 360% in the last 10 years.
Naturally, food companies are reacting to this demand. Plant-based start-ups (Light Life, Sweet Earth, etc) and ( Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Ocean Hunger, etc.) are all tasty alternatives that hit the market and consumers seem happy to gobble them up.
Since it will likely take a while for governments and food producers to grease the skids towards a sustainable food system, consumers have to fend for themselves in the meantime.
I’ve listed a few tools below that should prove useful for anyone looking to bring their diet in alignment with the findings from this report:
22 Days Nutrition:Beyonce and Jay-Z’s platform customizes your diet around a whole food, plant-based diet (you can buy groceries directly on their platform too)
Seafood Watch: this app helps you make better decisions when consuming seafood
Happy Cow: an app that helps you find restaurants/stores that sell plant-based foods
Now, some will question whether shifting entirely to a plant-based diet is healthy. Harvard has done research on the subject and has shown that plants can provide a well-balanced diet, in addition to solving many chronic health problems, namely diabetes and heart disease, two of the biggest killers in America.
If it’s B12 and protein you’re worried about, you can get B12 via supplements or consume sustainable seafood like oysters. And since we already get close to two-thirds of our protein from plants, ingesting enough protein via plants shouldn't be an issue either.
There’s even been a number of notable athletes that have shifted to a plant-based diet recently, specifically because they believe it helps to enhance their performance and improve recovery time. The movieGame Changers does a nice job showcasing the dietary shifts occurring in the world of sport. Notable athletes who have made the switch include Tom Brady, Kyrie Irving, Novak Djokovic, and Lewis Hamilton.
Poore said: "The reason I started this project was to understand if there were sustainable animal producers out there. But I have stopped consuming animal products over the last four years of this project. These impacts are not necessary to sustain our current way of life. The question is how much can we reduce them and the answer is a lot."