Vegetarians and vegans have already embraced the idea, but how about the rest of us? There’s currently lots of chatter about Meatless Mondays, meatless meals, pulses for protein, and so on. Many people think about reducing their meat consumption but may not act on it. This newsletter will provide reasons, as well as methods, for occasional meatless eating. Several books will be referenced!
The concept of Meatless Mondays has gained much attention, thanks to public figures like Paul McCartney and Al Gore. For ideas, go to https://www.meatlessmonday.com/ and https://www.meatfreemondays.com/
in the UK.
An ambitious next step is to eat one plant-based meal each day. This is the initiative of Suzy Amis Cameron, environmental advocate and author of the book The OMD Plan: Swap One Meal a Day to Save Your Health and Save the Planet (Atria Books, 2018). Her book and the website https://omdfortheplanet.com/ are good sources for recipes and reasons to keep meat and dairy off your plate for one meal a day.
Another daily challenge for plant-based eating is Mark Bittman’s VB6 or “Vegan Before 6 p.m.” After being told by his doctor “You should probably become a vegan," the prolific cookbook author and former columnist and food writer for the NY Times wrote a book on this topic, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good (Clarkson Potter, 2013).
These are all significant steps we can take toward realizing benefits for our planet with reduced animal agriculture.
How does meatless eating help our planet?
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) 2006 seminal report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” states that the livestock sector is one of the most significant contributors to serious environmental problems in terms of water and land use, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions (18% of global emissions). This report was subsequently criticized for being far too conservative, specifically in 2009 by Worldwatch Institute’s claim that animal agriculture is responsible for 51% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. And this is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas with dire warming potential.
Climatenexus, an organization dedicated to “changing the conversation on climate change," maintains that animal agriculture uses massive amounts of the earth’s resources in terms of water, land, and fossil fuel energy. https://climatenexus.org/ When we choose to eat plant-based meals, we are making a small contribution toward freeing up some of these resources to be used elsewhere.
Here are more of the ubiquitous statistics. Many are taken from Jonathan Safran Foer’s books Eating Animals (Little, Brown and Company, 2009) and We Are the Weather: saving the planet begins at breakfast (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019) with 60 and 43 pages of notes/sources, respectively).
- A meat-based diet uses 10 times more energy than one that is plant-based.
- Livestock production currently uses 30% of the earth’s land surface and 59% of our planet’s arable land – from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), an animal welfare lobbying organization.
- 60% of all mammals on earth are animals raised for livestock. (We humans are 36%!)
- One-third of all fresh water used by humans goes to animal agriculture.
- Globally, two out of three farm animals are raised on factory farms, aka CAFOs (or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation); in the US, the figure is 99% - CIWF.
“But how will I get protein in my diet if I don’t eat meat?” is the oft-heard cry.
We know that any animal product (meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products) is a “complete” protein. Plant sources are called incomplete proteins because they lack all 9 of the body’s essential amino acids. This “incomplete” profile does not indicate inferior protein, rather a need to eat foods with complimentary proteins. Perhaps readers of a certain age remember pouring over Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet in the 1970’s? The fact is, we don’t have to be concerned about matching compatible amino acid foods at a given meal; rather, eating a variety of foods throughout the day will provide the essentials.
Legumes for Protein
Many of us use the words bean, legume, and pulse (if at all!) somewhat interchangeably. They are slightly different food items, but are in the same “healthy” ballpark. Basically, they all belong to the legume family, meaning any plant that grows in a pod. Fresh beans and peas are legumes, as are peanuts and soy.
Pulses are a distinct product of a legume plant: the dry edible seeds in the pods (think lentils, chickpeas, and the myriad variety of dry beans). Pulses have definite health benefits apart from other legumes: they are both low in fat and very high in protein and fiber. A benefit to the environment: they are nitrogen-fixing plants, meaning they convert nitrogen in the air and make it available as a nutrient for the plant, thus reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizers. And it must be mentioned that the cultivation of pulses – as well as legumes - uses a fraction of the land, water and fossil fuel energy used by animal agriculture.
A couple of places to go for good information are https://pulses.org/nap/ and http://www.pulsecanada.com/. We can also find a clear explanation of pulses and legumes, along with lots of recipes, at https://www.patriciabannan.com/, website of the nationally-recognized registered dietitian nutritionist.
Other plant sources of protein are (high fat) nuts, any soy product, chia seeds, and leafy greens. Let’s have a shout-out for quinoa (often thought of as a grain, but actually a seed) and freekah (which is roasted, young, green wheat), as both of these plant sources provide complete proteins.
The World Resources Institute (WRI) “develops research-based solutions that create real change on the ground,” and their website is definitely worth exploring, especially their 2003 “Global Food Challenge” report with 18 graphics. https://www.wri.org/blog/2013/12/global-food-challenge-explained-18-graphics
Numerous other scientific evidence-based sources support the premise that avoiding meat and dairy is the most substantive way for us to reduce our environmental impact on the earth. The WRI chart below clearly shows that plant-sourced protein uses a fraction of the earth’s resources.
Let's close with the succinct philosophy statement of the environmental advocacy organization A Well-Fed World: Plant-based Hunger Solutions https://awellfedworld.org
A global shift toward plant-based foods more efficiently uses crops and natural resources to alleviate hunger, increase food security, and mitigate climate change.
SOME GREEN THOUGHTS
“Eating is an agricultural act.”
“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”
-Sir Paul McCartney
“By eating meat we share the responsibility of climate change, the destruction of our forests, and the poisoning of our air and water. The simple act of becoming a vegetarian will make a difference in the health of our planet.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, author, peace activist, vegan
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animal are treated.”
“1 billion people in the world are chronically hungry. 1 billion people are overweight.”
― Mark Bittman, Food Matters
THINK GREEN. EAT GREEN.
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