How Plant-Based Eating Could Heal the Planet

Plant-Based Eating Cuts Greenhouse Emissions in Half 

According to a review of more than 200 articles spanning 50 years of data from 100 countries, recent shifts in human dietary habits have accelerated climate change. Fortunately, the researchers believe that widespread adoption of a plant-based diet could slow or even reverse the damage done to the environment.Planet earth above

Dramatic Reductions in Environmental Damage

The review, published in Nature, an international journal of science, found that as income levels and urbanization have risen worldwide, more and more people are transitioning away from traditional diets to diets high in processed foods and meats. If these trends continue, global agriculture greenhouse gas levels (GHG) from food production and land clearing could increase by an estimated 80% over the next 30 or so years.

If plant-based diets were widely adopted, however, we could see dramatic reductions to the environmental damage that has been caused by modern eating habits. Experts predict that a global movement to encourage people to eat a plant-based diet could cut food-related GHG emissions by up to 55%.

Sustainable Methods Matter

The Nature study looked at the GHG emissions associated with specifics meats, and found to raise, slaughter, and market cows and sheep generates roughly 250 more GHGs per gram of protein than to grow and sell legumes. Emission levels for pork, poultry, fish, and dairy are lower than beef or lamb, but still markedly higher than for legumes.

baron ground with steam rising out of the dirt and a cloudy skyThe researchers also found that sustainable production—for instance, raising animals on land not suited for crops—makes a measurable difference. The environmental impact is far lower than industrialized meat production, and some sustainable practices, such as recycling manure back into the soil, can actually have environmental benefits.

The Best Choice? A Plant-Based Diet

A focus on sustainable methods can help to offset the damage done by meat-heavy diets, but the best choice for the environment is to eat a plant-based diet.

Research published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition found that eating a vegan diets results in the smallest environmental footprint. The researchers assigned participants randomly to one of five different diets…

  • Vegan
  • Vegetarian
  • Pesco-vegetarian
  • Semi-vegetarian
  • Omnivorous

Then, they monitored changes to participants’ environmental impact. They found that those in the vegan group decreased their impact the most when compared to the other diets. Furthermore, they found that significantly fewer resources are required to not only to produce plant-based protein, but to purchase and prepare them as well. 

Help Heal and Protect the Environment

The connections between what we eat and Earth’s environment are complex. Although the best option would be to forgo meat and dairy altogether, incremental changes do add up. By choosing to eat a plant-based diet—whether for one meal a week, or every meal, every week—you can play a role in healing and protecting the environment.