How An Organic, Plant-Based Diet Supports A Healthy Environment

While most people are aware that our food choices have a great influence on our own personal health, what most individuals do not know is just how much our food choices and global food systems significantly affect the health of our global environment. With population growth now projected to reach 9.7 billon by 2050, and an estimated 50% more food needed to feed the world’s population, scientists, policy makers, and world leaders are all working to find the solutions for feeding the world and ensuring the future health of our planet. [1, 2]

Now we all have heard about the negative impact of oil, coal, car emissions, etc. which typically take up the brunt of the global warming conversation. But, what tends to get left out of the conversation is the ~15% of green house gas emissions that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have directly linked by to the global meat production industry. [3] This statistic has many scientists, and environmental advocates encouraging more plant based diets, which comparatively result in about half of the emissions of a primarily meat based diet [4].

Even with the statistics showing how positive a mostly plant-based diet could be for the health of our environment, sometimes it still can be difficult to really connect how your daily burger may be contributing to our global climate issues in the same way your car is. So why don’t we go right ahead and break down the most important ways that a plant-based diet could help support a healthy environment.

Four Key Ways An Organic Plant Based Diet Supports A Healthy Environment

Protects Our Rainforests Who doesn’t love the rain forests? Even if you have never had the chance to visit them, the thought of them disappearing makes most children and adults upset. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening in countries such as Brazil, where the demand for beef globally is so high that the production and exportation of beef is more important then the preservation of the Amazon rainforests. [5]

Land and Water Preservation If there is one reason to purchase organic, besides your own personal health, it should be to help preserve the health of the land and water in large agriculture communities. When it comes to the meat industry, mass production factory farms use significant levels of artificial pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics, all of which can contaminate groundwater and destroy topsoil over time. Choosing to support organic means that you are choosing to support the health and safety of the communities where your food is grown. [6]

Help Feed The Planet In a nutshell, our population is growing too fast, the demand for meat is too great, and our environment cannot keep up with the unrealistic demands of the global primarily meat-based diets. [7] However, even with a growing population, a study from 2015 published in Nature Communications found that mostly plant-based diets were highly feasible to be able to feed the worlds population without the total deforestation of our planets most precious natural resources. [8,9]

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A Reduced Carbon Footprint For the most part plants, especially plants grown locally, require significantly less energy and resources than meat. This is because the meat industry requires resources like grain, water, land, and energy to both produce and transport the meat our global population demands. Lamb comes in on top with the greatest impact generating 39.3 kg of CO2 equivalents for each kilo (2.2 lbs) eaten. Coming in second is beef, which generates 27 kg of CO2 equivalents for each kilo consumed. Comparatively, tomatoes only account for 1.1 kg of CO2 equivalents per kilo consumed. Additionally, cattle produce significant quantities of Nitrous Oxide, and Methane Gas globally, both of which are exponentially more destructive than CO2 to the environment. [10,11] This means that by simply reducing your meat consumption, you will have the potential to greatly reduce your personal carbon footprint.

Pulling It All Together

Now before you start thinking about removing meat entirely from your diet, it is important to note that purchasing and consuming locally produced organic meat is absolutely a sustainable option. In fact you should try and consume as much local produce as you can as well!

This is because most local small farmers are producing their meat and produce in a way that actually supports the land and environment around them. They also are not transporting their meat long distances, which limits their transportation associated emissions. Choosing to support a local farmer who is producing meat responsibly is an excellent option for individuals who may be willing to reduce their meat consumption, but do not want to completely eliminate it.

While there are many opinions about our worlds meat consumption from an ethical, environmental, cultural, and even religious perspective, one thing we know for sure is that the more plants we eat the healthier our bodies and the environment will be.

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Resources

[1] http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/2015-report.html [2] http://www.ewg.org/ [3] http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/ [4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4372775/ [5] http://www.fao.org/docrep/ARTICLE/WFC/XII/0568-B1.HTM [6] http://www.fao.org/organicag/oa-faq/oa-faq6/en/ [7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4372775/ [8] https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms11382 [9] http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.abstract [10] http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/ [11] https://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch2s2-10-2.html#table-2-14