By Florencia Tagliavini, The NutraMilk Nutritionist.
Our food choices are driven by various factors such as our culture, society, lifestyle, biologic needs, and economic accessibility.
There is another factor that is overlooked when making food choices and that is how food production influences the health of our planet. If we stop and think about it or research a bit, we would all understand how each bite we take can impact our environment.
Food production is a major contributor to climate change. Numerous resources have examined diet’s role in greenhouse gas production and other environmental markers. One of the first was the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations’ 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow which states the following:
- The livestock sector was identified as being responsible for a greater production of greenhouse gas than automobiles and other forms of transportation.
- The livestock sector causes deforestation in Latin America, responsible for 70 percent of forests cleared for grazing in the Amazon.
- The livestock sector causes 55 percent of soil erosion in the United States.
- The livestock sector is the largest user of fresh water.
- The livestock sector pollutes our waterways with manure, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones.
- The livestock sector produces 65 percent of human-induced nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is almost 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in heating up the globe.
- The livestock sector produces 68 percent of human-induced ammonia, contributing significantly to acid rain.
Eating a diet with a lower carbon footprint, or with fewer animal products, especially red meat and dairy, contributes to less greenhouse emissions.
A plant-based diet is not only healthier for our planet but its healthier for you. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who adhere to a climate-friendly diet, one that has a lower carbon footprint, eat healthier than those who don't.
This is no surprise since diets that are rich in animal products, especially red meat, are higher in saturated fats and cholesterol while healthy plant-based diets offer more, cardio-protective unsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Sure, diet is not the only thing that needs to change to prevent further destruction to our environment. Other actions need to shift rapidly in the food production sector including producing less food waste, improving technologies and farming practices in order to conserve forests that are being destroyed for croplands and pastures, etc.
But, agriculture already occupies roughly 40 percent of the world’s land and is responsible for about a quarter of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. With the global population expected to grow from 7.2 billion people today to nearly 10 billion by 2050, what we choose to eat can greatly impact our environment.
We all have control over what we eat. Red meat has one of the largest effects on the environment due to the amount of work it takes to produce it. One of the biggest changes people can make is to eat a lot less red meat or replace it with plant-based alternatives, such as beans, peas, and lentils. Even choosing chicken is a significant change. Shifting towards a plant-based diet that is high in whole natural foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and low in meat, especially red meat and processed foods is supported by most respected health institutions such as the American Heart Association, The American Institute of Cancer Research and The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics due to the many health benefits.
Each day we make a choice of what to eat, as we become more conscious, we should take responsibility for the impact that our food choices have on our planet.
Think about it!
- Livestock’s Long Shadow. Environmental issues and options. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Rome:2006.
- American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org
- The American Institute of Cancer Research. http://www.aicr.org
- The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org