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We are often tempted to look for reasons behind environmental degradation in world policies, our governments, and large corporations.
I see why.
But let’s for a second, quit searching out there and look at our own plates.
Lots of recent research, including the most comprehensive one to date, shows that one of the most effective things we can do as an individual to help tackle the climate crisis is to adopt a plant-based diet. One based around vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruit, nuts, and seeds.
Seven years ago, the best way my best friend and I could have imagined spending a beautiful summer evening was ordering one kilo of pork ribs. We ate it all.
Today, more than 80 percent of my diet is plant-based, and my friend is vegetarian. I have been gradually decreasing my intake of animal products, still occasionally eating fish, and from time to time, cheese.
We sure did enjoy every bit of that huge pile of meat back then. But I wasn’t thinking, and I wasn’t aware there is a direct link between the way we eat and environmental sustainability.
Making space to grow the feed for livestock, which could instead be used for the world’s 800 million hungry people, and space for the pastures, is one of the leading causes of global deforestation. Some 80 percent of all agricultural land worldwide is taken for grazing stock and producing their feed.
Livestock also emit methane, which contributes to the heat-trapping greenhouse effect and which is 28 times more potent in terms of global warming than CO2.
Researchers and scientists are clear about two things:
Our individual behaviour does make a difference. And if tackling global warming and keeping the rise in global temperature below the 2°C limit agreed by the world’s governments is to succeed, our individual behaviour needs to change. One of those changes is eating significantly less meat.
Apart from the environment, the ethical and health reasons are also worth a consideration.
Not only are 150 million animals slaughtered every day for our food worldwide, the conditions in which they are often kept, transported, and killed has nothing to do with being humane. Yuval Noah Harari explains in his book Sapiens why the treatment of animals in modern agriculture is probably the worst crime in history. And having seen documentaries like “Earthlings,” “Live and Let Live,” “Cowspiracy,” and “What the Health,” I’m afraid he has a point.
I also consider it mind-boggling that the World Health Organization has classified processed meats—including pâtés, ham, salami, sausages, and bacon—as a Group 1 carcinogen, same as tobacco smoking and asbestos, which means there’s strong evidence they cause cancer. Red meat, such as beef, pork, and lamb, is a Group 2A carcinogen, which means it probably causes cancer.
Another angle of looking at our unsustainable food system is that our planet is expected to be home for 10 billion people by 2050. If we want to preserve the world environment and its resources, feeding all this population will be possible only if we change what we eat, how we produce food, and how we (don’t) waste it. Massive reduction of meat and dairy consumption in developed and emerging countries is the key in this equation.
As much as I believe switching to a plant-based lifestyle is the right way to go for multiple reasons, going fully vegetarian or vegan may not be for everyone. Various factors play into not being ready to give up animal products entirely, including culture, institutional and family support, as well as education. So be gentle with yourself. And others.
But we can make a positive difference even by reducing our animal products consumption.
If you are used to eating meat every day, try to substitute it with plant-based foods at least two days a week. If you are already vegetarian, why not try to cut your intake of dairy products by half? Cook a delicious vegetarian meal for your meat-eating friends. Experiment and see how you feel.
We should be educated and aware about how our food choices impact our health and the world around us. And on that basis, consciously live in a way that is in line with our beliefs and options.
You are not what you eat. But what you eat makes a huge difference for the environment. And for our future.