Earth Day: The Planet-Friendly Perks of a Plant-Based Diet

rē-think your diets to honor Mother Earth

By: Jessica Ourisman
Earth Day: The Planet-Friendly Perks of a Plant-Based Diet

This Earth Day, rē-think the significance of your food choices. There are many ways to make your diets more sustainable, and they don’t have to feel like huge sacrifices. “Choosing to eat differently does not have to be a radical change — small steps will make a difference,” Dr. Goodall writes in the Foreword of #EATMEATLESS: Good for Animals, The Earth & All, a plant-based cookbook published by The Jane Goodall Institute. “[W]hat we eat really does matter, really does make a difference,” it reads.

Referencing the environmental harm wrought by factory farming on forests, water sources, energy consumption, and emissions — with the livestock sector alone responsible for over fourteen percent of all greenhouse gas emissions — sustainability purists argue in favor of adopting a vegan lifestyle. But even if you aren’t ready to do a total dietary 180, you can still make an impact by eating plant-based once per week or consuming less beef, lamb, and dairy, which research indicates are the biggest environmental offenders.

To better understand the environmental merits of eating plant-based, we spoke with Shiri Avnery, co-founder, and COO of the sustainability-minded meal delivery service, Thistle. With a Ph.D. in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, she gives us data and tips to go along with planet-friendly intentions.

The Rise of The Laid-Back Vegetarian

There’s a term for the type of diet that emphasizes plant-based eating, reducing the consumption of dairy and meat without eliminating it entirely: flexitarianism. While it occasionally incorporates meat or fish, it still results in a smaller ecological footprint — and it’s growing in popularity globally. “Plant-based retail food sales in 2020 were over $7B in the US, growing 27% from the year prior and outpacing the growth of the US retail food market overall,” says Avnery, who points out that the global interest in veganism and vegetarianism has been rapidly rising, as well. “Interestingly, across the globe and especially in the US, what’s driving the surging growth in plant-based foods isn’t simply more vegans, but rather more interest in a flexitarian lifestyle,” she continues.

She reveals that a third or more of Americans are attempting to reduce their meat and dairy consumption, with 90% indicating a desire to eat more plants, and more than half open to eating less meat in favor of plant-based alternatives. These changing trends away from a meat- and dairy-centric diet have been reflected in Thistle’s customer’s choices in meals, with a growing emphasis on plant-based options and the gradual shift away from sustainable meat option add-ons over time.

What Is The Impact of a Flexitarian Diet?

Believe it or not, simply going vegan for two-thirds of your meals reduces your footprint by 60%! Avnery points to the numbers, which reveal the relative inefficiency of corporate farming as opposed to plant-based agricultural alternatives. Research shows that beef has roughly 25 times the emissions toll of tofu and 100 times that of peas per gram of protein, while cheese yields 5.5 times and 25 times the emissions of tofu and peas. “According to a recent study, going meatless one day per week could reduce your food-related carbon footprint by approximately 20%,” Avnery continues. “Reducing red meat or eliminating dairy reduces [your carbon footprint] by 33%, and giving up red meat altogether reduces the same by 50%.”

Tips for Getting Started

We know that trying to enforce new dietary modifications can feel like a special type of hell, so Avnery provides us with some pointers for getting started; remember, you don’t have to make all these changes overnight! Making even one of these tips a habit will be doing the earth a favor.

First of all, wasting less food is key. “According to one study, reducing meat consumption and reducing food waste could save more CO2 emissions than recycling, switching to hybrids, and adding rooftop solar combined,” she says. 

“In terms of reducing meat consumption, don’t be intimidated or think you need to go all in. It’s a journey. Start with reducing your beef, lamb, and dairy consumption,” she continues. You can also try the popular meat-alternatives from tofu to seitan, to tempeh; if you really miss your burgers, you have to give gluten-free Beyond Burgers a try. (This writer’s carnivorous boyfriend once ate a Beyond Sausage and had no idea it was plant-based.)

Where you shop from also matters, as shopping from smaller, local farms cuts transportation-related emissions and supports farmers whose environmental practices are more responsible than intensive corporate farming. You can also choose your meals at restaurants strategically by selecting dishes where meat comes in smaller portions. If you cook, simply focus on the ways to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, rather than lamenting what you are giving up.

Of course, considering a plant-based meal plan from a delivery service like Thistle makes it easy. (If you need pointers selecting from their menu, their Grilled Corn & Poblano Chile Salad, Green Thai Curry, Enchilada Bake, and Kale Caesar Pasta are best-sellers.)

Wellness for All: We Are Nature

Without delving into the ethical atrocities associated with the factory farming industry, simply know that 80 billion animals are slaughtered each year for meat. Not to mention, it’s been reported that factory farms are “breeding grounds” for future pandemics. But our mission is not to shame you into adopting a more animal-friendly lifestyle, it is to help inspire empowered action in the name of wellness — for self, for animals, and for the planet. No matter how small, there are simple, straightforward actions that can help you live more sustainably without totally overhauling your lifestyle.

As you consider rē-thinking your diets to be more planet-friendly, remember that we are part of nature. Eating plant-based, or practicing harm-reduction when choosing your meals, is a surprisingly effective way to put our planet first, whose very ecosystem we are part of. “[Eating plant-based] is an individual action you can take three times a day to effect change, to say no to the exploitation of animals, people, and the planet, and in support of health, the welfare of animals, the welfare of farmworkers, and the sustainability of our planet,” Avnery says.

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