You likely know that the food you consume either harms or heals you. Our lifestyle determines our health in many ways; our energy levels, skin and hair condition, immune functioning, heart health, and so much more.
But did you know that what you put into your mouth also significantly impacts the planet?
Yes, that's right, your food choices can hurt or nourish mother nature.
How is this possible?
Tons of research has found that meat and dairy products are among the biggest culprits of the climate crisis. In contrast, following a plant-based diet can actually reverse these effects.
So does this mean we should all turn vegan?
We dived into the latest research to find out.
How Meat & Dairy Are Harming The Earth
Did you know that animal agriculture (land used for animal farming) takes up half the habitable land of planet earth?
Moreover, out of all the agricultural land use around the world, 77% is used for producing meat and dairy (including growing plants for animal feed), compared to just 23% for plant-based crops for human consumption.
To create enough space, forests, rainforests, and other vital ecosystems are destroyed. In particular, more than 80% of Amazon deforestation has occurred due to cattle ranching.
This is estimated to increase global greenhouse gas emissions by between 14.5 and 18%, leading to climate change - which could result in food and water scarcity, increased disease, and economic loss.
Another environmental concern modern-day animal agriculture brings is the excess water use it requires.
Plant-based foods generally require much less water than animal foods. According to Forks Over Knives, almost half of the USA's water consumption goes toward raising livestock.
To help you understand the difference, one pound of beef requires 1,800 to 4,000 gallons of water to produce, while one pound of vegetables requires just 39 gallons of water. Even the least water-efficient plant-based food, nuts, use much less water than meat, at around 1086 gallons.
How A Plant-Based Diet Can Help The Planet
As you can see, excessive meat and dairy consumption are not good for the planet (or us). So what would switching to a vegan diet do for the environment?
According to research at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, a global shift to a plant-based diet could reduce greenhouse gasses caused by food production by 10% and 70% by 2050.
Now, you may wonder, if animal agriculture stopped tomorrow, wouldn't we all eventually run out of food?
Well, here's another interesting fact. Although meat and dairy use around 83% of the world's land, animal products only provide approximately 18% of calories globally. The vast majority of the calories we consume come from plant-based sources, meaning there is no concern about food shortages by eating only plants.
You may also wonder if growing more plants will increase land usage too much.
It's important to note that most agricultural land used for producing meat and dairy is for growing crops for those animals to eat. And animals require a lot more cropland than humans. In fact, 80% of the plant proteins produced in the United States are for animal feed, either domestically or abroad.
Therefore, even if the entire world went vegan, there would still be much less land used for agriculture than now.
Are There Any Negative Effects Of Eating Plant-Based?
When making a decision as significant as your lifestyle, it's essential to fully understand both the pros and cons.
While in terms of carbon emissions and water consumption, plant-based foods are undoubtedly better for the planet than meat or dairy, there is one thing you should bear in mind.
Certain foods, both plant-based and animal products, can have a high carbon footprint. This happens when specific foods can only be grown in particular countries or climates and, thus, are exported worldwide.
For example, most asparagus is produced in Peru, yet it is available in most countries. To make it globally available, 5.3kg of carbon dioxide is created for every kilogram, giving it the highest carbon footprint compared to any other vegetable in the UK.
So, while a plant-based diet is undoubtedly a better choice than eating meat and dairy, it's crucial to be mindful of the carbon footprint of what you eat. This is why it's always best to choose seasonal, locally-grown products over imported, exotic foods.