By Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietician
Some people are saying, “Take extinction off your plate.” What? I already take shorter showers. Every week, I deposit my recycling into the right bins. I walk whenever I can. I ride my bike a lot, when it’s not so icy I’ll kill myself. I car-share. Isn’t that enough? It seems not. Agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions – greater than all transport put together – and our current dietary choices are propelling us toward extinction.
Rearing livestock for animal products requires far more land, water, and energy than producing plant foods. Producing a kilo of beef generates 27 kilos of CO2, compared to 0.9 kg per kilo of lentils. That’s 30 times as much! While new technologies for animal farming are available, a recent study found they only reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 9%.
One kilo of beef delivers 194 grams protein; one kilo of lentils: 246 grams protein. According to a 2016 Oxford study, adopting vegan diets globally would cut food-related emissions by 70%. That’s an excellent reason to order falafels or curried chickpeas rather than a burger or fried chicken. But how can you make lentils taste even remotely as good? One can start by picking up a vegetarian cookbook or doing a web search for “vegan lentil recipe.” You’ll find 825,000 tasty results within 0.51 seconds.
The Scientific Committee of the Dietary Guidelines – a conservative group – now provides evidence that diets with more plant foods and fewer animal products are linked with less environmental damage. Many scientists are calling for a great reduction in livestock production to reverse climate change and to use less water, fossil fuels, pesticides, and fertilizers.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics makes the point that, compared with producing 1 kilo of beef protein, 1 kg protein from kidney beans requires 18 times less land, 10 times less water, 9 times less fuel, 12 times less fertilizer, and 10 times fewer pesticides. Beef production generates considerably more manure waste than other animal or fish farming, but they are all strong polluters. Pig farming creates immense toxic manure ponds. The Environmental Protection Agency states that about 70% of all water pollution in rivers and lakes in the US results from animal farm waste.
The use of antibiotics as growth promoters and to prevent and treat farm animal diseases generates antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance passes to humans, causing difficult-to-treat illnesses, resulting in greater morbidity, mortality and health care costs.
Does this situation strike you as crazy? By relying on meat and other animal products, we make ourselves obese; raise our risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancers; and then destroy our planet. Want to really make a change?
Remember, you don’t need to dive too deep, too fast. Start where you’re at by slowly integrating plant-based meals into your diet. Not only will you probably feel better you will contribute to the health of the planet.
Learn more about our nutrition and culinary courses and how you can learn the tools to achieve both personal and planetary wellness by clicking here.
Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver-based dietitian and a nutrition instructor at Living Light.