Vegan diets can save the world

| 3rd October 2019
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Opting for a sustainable vegan diet is the single most significant thing we can all do to help the planet.

If everyone ate a plant based diet, the planet would be in a much better state than it is today. If everyone ate a plant based diet, the planet would be in a much better state than it is today.

Some corporations are paying more attention to how their practices impact the planet and revising their policies in line with sustainable development: we hear of universities banning meat in the name of climate change, organisations imposing a levy on plastic bottles and companies pledging to use sustainable materials.

These changes are coming about as more conversations are had about our impact on the planet. It is imperative that every one of us strives to help sustain the planet before it’s too late.

There are various actions big and small that we can all take to try to minimise our impact on the planet, but many of those actions pale in comparison to what’s on our plates.

Avoiding meat

Last year an Oxford University study – which is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet – found that ‘avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth’.

So just how important is our diet in conversations around sustainability?

There are countless small sustainable actions we can take, such as taking shorter showers, using a reusable shopping bag or buying an energy-saving lightbulb. All these little things add up to effect real change but many people miss out one very important detail – the impact of what we eat.

A study published in Environmental Research Letters showed that eating a plant-based diet has three times more positive impact than washing your clothes in cold water; four times more than hang-drying clothes or recycling; and eight times more than upgrading light bulbs.

Natural habitats

When we think about sustainable food, the conversation is often dominated by local sourcing, organic produce or packaging use. However, the prevalence of meat, dairy and eggs in our diet is hugely damaging to the planet.

The United Nations, WWF, Greenpeace and Chatham House have all called for a move towards a plant-based diet and the recent Amazon fires led many to ditch animal products in favour of vibrant, nutritious plant foods.

Animal agriculture is the major cause of global deforestation and is responsible for up to 91 percent of Amazon destruction. Farmers set fire to trees so they can graze animals and grow crops to feed them. This deforestation is a contributing factor to climate change, removing the valuable C02 absorption and storage that trees provide.

Becoming vegan reduces the land needed to produce our food by between a third and a half. As well as saving precious habitats in the Amazon, we could be protecting wildlife here in the UK.

And yes, if everyone ate a plant-based diet, the UK would still be able to sustain itself – this is what the University of Harvard found in a study we reported on, which was launched at this year’s Grow Green Conference.

Diet’s impact

Animal agriculture is inherently unsustainable because animals eat much more food than they ‘produce’. For every 100 calories we feed to farmed animals, we only receive 40 calories back from consuming their meat and dairy products. By feeding ourselves with those crops directly instead, we could feed billions more people around the globe.

Even though it feels like just buying some food, there is a much deeper and more important story behind every purchase affecting not just our planet but also the lives of those who dwell on it. Here’s where individual action comes in.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Change is difficult and doesn’t come easily to many of us, so start by making small changes. There is no time for justifications and excuses.

If everyone ate a diet as close to a vegan one as possible, the planet would be in a much better state than it is today.

This author

Dominika Piasecka is media and public relations officer at the Vegan Society and a keen vegan activist. If you care about the environment, take the seven-day planet-saving vegan pledge at www.vegansociety.com/plateup.

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