Eat a more plant-based diet

  • Food
  • November 12, 2023

Meat and dairy have a large impact on climate change, with livestock accounting for about 14% of the world’s greenhouse gases each year.  That’s roughly the same amount as emissions from all cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships in the world combined.  

By making small adjustments to your daily food choices, you can improve your health and help save the planet at the same time! It’s not the whole story, but it can make a significant impact. 

Not interested in cutting animal products ‘cold turkey’? It’s not necessary to be a pure vegetarian to make a big impact on the climate and your health.  Consuming less red meat and dairy has the biggest impact: start with beef, lamb, and cheese.  Chicken, eggs, pork and mollusks are more sustainable choices because they have lower carbon footprints to produce than red meat and dairy.  Meat alternatives are available that will substitute for meat in a favorite family recipe. 

Let this chart by the Environmental Working Group showing comparative climate impact of many foods be your guide to selecting ingredients with lower carbon footprints.  Did you know you can eat at least 6 times the amount of chicken for the same climate impact as the same amount of beef?  Even little changes like shifting away from beef can make a big difference. 

Find plant-based recipes you love to eat! Look for meatless recipes that appeal to you and that you’ll be excited to eat again.  Make ‘Meatless Monday’ a family tradition for a start.  Save the recipes that are popular with family members to create a rotating menu of vegetarian dishes. With a well stocked pantry, pulling together a Meatless Monday will be quick and easy.

Like any good ‘diet’, approach the commitment to eating fewer animal products as a lifestyle change that you can maintain over the long run. Go at your own pace but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, and remember the benefits you are deriving for not only the planet, but for your own health.

Steps to Take

  1. Try out some vegetarian and vegan recipes with the goal of finding ones that you and your family find delicious and enticing.  Check out Rainbow Plant Life or other YouTube chefs for inspiration.
  2. Set a goal that is concrete but realistic.  You could make “Meatless Monday ” a family tradition, or limit beef and cheese to certain days of the week.
  3. Find a vegan or vegetarian cookbook you like, identify ingredients that are common in the recipes you like, and stock your pantry with them to make whipping up a vegetarian meal more convenient.
  4. Spread the word! Very few people understand the climate impact of their food choices. Post a testimonial to share your goals and your favorite cookbook or recipe!

Deep Dive

What’s the difference between vegetarian and vegan?  Vegetarian is a broader term for excluding animal products from your diet. A vegetarian diet will exclude meat but may include eggs and dairy (lacto-ovo vegetarian). A vegan diet strictly avoids any food that contains animal products, including dairy and eggs. Once you become familiar with meatless recipes, try adding vegan recipes into your repertoire as well. Dairy is another food category with a big environmental footprint.

What if I want to just move away from beef but keep other meat in my diet for now?   A major study published in 2018 in the journal Science (Poore and Nemecek, Science ) calculated the average greenhouse gas emissions associated with different foods.  It is a helpful guide to food choice trade-offs and dietary climate impact.   The Science calculations show six times the climate impact of beef production as compared to chicken. This impact on climate grows when beef is raised in countries like Argentina and Brazil where meat production practices often result in deforestation. The commitment we make to reducing the consumption of beef from our diets would have a significantly large impact on our carbon footprints. Also, when you do eat meat, choosing meat from local sources, pasture-raised sources is more sustainable. Check out this convenient option for locally sourced meat - delivered to your door! Walden Loca l

What are good plant-based protein sources?   As you increase the number of plant-based meals you eat, it’s a good idea to include recipes with plant-based protein sources. Lentils, beans, chickpeas,  peas, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh and edamame, and seitan (made from wheat) are all good sources of protein. Don’t limit these ingredients to main dishes. You can get your protein in salad, soups, snacks, and even in desserts! The New York Times has an excellent Mexican chocolate pudding recipe by famed chef Mark Bittman that uses tofu and is impossible to distinguish from the traditional recipe.

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