Of all diets, veganism and vegetarianism have probably been trampled on the most in the U.S. Just yesterday, I saw a man with a shirt that read, “Hey vegetarians! My food poops on your food.” I wonder if that man realizes that the poop from his “food” is one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
Plant-based diets have recently seen a huge increase in the U.S., with those identifying as vegan increasing from one percent to six percent between 2014 and 2017, according to PlantProteins.co. According to Vegan News Now, approximately 9.6 million people in the U.S. follow a plant-based diet. This increase may be due to ethical reasons, but many have also made the switch to a plant-based diet for health and environmental benefits.
The feed and waste produced for and by cattle release huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions — a significant contributor to climate change. The production of red meats, such as beef and lamb, produces ten to forty times as many greenhouse gas emissions as vegetables and grains.
The process of making livestock feed produces nitrous oxide, “a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” according to Scientific American. On average, cattle also consume five times the amount of grains as the entire U.S. population.
Of course, after consuming and digesting these grains, cows need to defecate the excess feed to make room for the consumption of more calories and nutrients; they need to poop. Their waste produces about 20 percent of methane emissions — a greenhouse gas — in the U.S., according to MD Anderson.
Cattle ranching also leads to the erosion of topsoil and desertification and is linked to four-fifths of the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
Clearly, if environmental conservation is a priority of yours, consuming less meat, specifically red meat, is something you might want to consider.
If the environmental benefits are not enough to convince you to consider this diet, maybe the health benefits will. Following plant-based diets has been proven, through studies conducted over the past twenty years, to reduce the risks of cancer.
Consuming large amounts of meats has been linked to heart disease, cancer and obesity, while plant-based diets have been shown to support immune system health, reduce inflammation and support digestion, according to MD Anderson.
Cattle antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains that put humans at risk; plant-based diets decrease risks for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some mental illnesses.
These benefits are prevalent largely because those who follow plant-based diets generally eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and these foods contain high sources of fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are beneficial for health and for the avoidance of illnesses and diseases.
According to MD Anderson, those who eat “plant-based” diets high in processed foods, added sugars and added fats are less likely to receive these benefits.
If ditching meat altogether seems a daunting task, there is good news! Transitioning to a plant-based diet does not necessarily mean giving up meat altogether, but rather consuming mostly plants, such as vegetables, whole grains, fruits, beans, seeds and nuts and lowering, or in some cases removing, meat consumption.
Per MD Anderson, those following a plant-based diet aim for around two-thirds of their meals to be from plants and one-third of their meals to be lean proteins, such as tofu, beans, chicken and salmon.
Plant-based diets contribute to good health and help conserve the environment. If you are not ready to part with meat yet, consuming farm-raised and grass-fed products along with a multitude of plants greatly helps reduce negative environmental impacts.
If you ever needed an excuse to give your diet a make-over and become more health-conscious, now is a better time than ever, as there is an abundance of meat alternatives on the market. Help yourself, and help the planet, by adding more plants and less meats to your everyday routine.