Sustainability

Plant-Based Diets: Should You Make The Conversion?

A plant-based diet is one that comprises foods that are derived from plants but may include a few animal products. Also, there’s a difference between plant-based diets and veganism. Vegan diets eliminate all animal-based products whereas plant-based diets may include few animal products (eggs, meat, dairy, gelatin).

Many people are shifting to plant-based diets with newer meat alternatives hitting the shelves. But why has this revolution come? Why is everyone trying to eat plant-based foods? Let’s find out!

Environmental Impact

Plant-based diets are more viable compared to animal products because they consume less natural resources and are environment friendly. Given the explosion of the global population and increase in wealth, the demand for animal based foods is increasing. Natural non-renewable resources are increasingly scarce and rapidly rising environmental deterioration.

Food security and food viability are on a crash on food consumption and changes in the environment. To avoid crash, one must decline intake of meat and dairy. Food waste prevention and agricultural precision or other scientific developments must be followed simultaneously; however, they are insufficient to support the global food system. Meatless diets are promoted for decades and most of the world’s population thrive on plant-based diets. 

“Going back” to worldwide plant-based diets seems a reasonable alternative for a sustainable future. Policies for globally adopting plant-based diets will simultaneously optimize the outcomes of food supply, health, environment, and social justice for the world’s population. Implementing such a policy on nutrition is perhaps one of the most rational and moral pathways for a sustainable future of the human race and other living creatures of the biosphere that we share.

Sustainability

Sustainability terms typically cover facets of ecology, culture, and society and have varying interpretations based on context. For consumers, a balanced diet won’t automatically be described in the same way as for farmers or food producers. In 2010 the FAO defined sustainable diets as “the low-impact diets that contribute to food and nutrition security and a healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources”

Meat and dairy products are largely responsible for a significant share of the natural resource use and the environmental cost of food processing as compared with plant foods. However, looking at eating habits is a more holistic and practical approach when evaluating the environmental effects of manufacturing food for human consumption, rather than specific foods. We previously compared the environmental impacts of processing foods eaten differently by California’s vegetarians and non-vegetarians and found that the agricultural inputs needed for the non-vegetarian diet were 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer and 1.4 times more pesticides than for the vegetarian diet. 

Past Scenarios

Previously, putting more land into agriculture and exploiting fish stocks was the main solution to food shortages. These are not options which are sustainable. The intensification of current underperforming agricultural ecosystems is not growing either. Closing the food yield gap would take new strategies when addressing sustainability targets, including shifting traditional agriculture to more low-input and precision methods. It is estimated that waste and losses in the supply chain account for more than a third of the world’s food produced. 

Huge portions of the world’s population have thrived on diets of little to no nutrition for centuries. However, the concept of eating meat as the paramount source of protein in the past century has become deeply embedded in Western countries’ psyche and culture, and is now pervading many other cultures and nations. Undertaking a dramatic downshift in meat consumption would pose significant challenges and resistance at several levels: taste habits of the consumer; other cultural traditions; existing societal norms; economic factors such as livestock industry; and current national and international food policy. Several ideas were brought forward for the transition from animal protein to plant-based protein. Many of them include public awareness that reflects on the environmental and nutritional benefits of plant-based diets, encouraging dietary standards focused on safety and sustainability parameters, designing enticing and culturally appropriate plant-based meat-alternative foods, and realigning existing fiscal policies (meal subsidies and taxation) with quality and environmental requirements.

Reducing food waste could significantly improve food security, while reducing environmental degradation at the same time. Improving food yields, reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture and reducing waste are needed but are not enough strategies to ensure global food security. Realigning the agricultural and dietary requirements will provide more calories. Shifting diets worldwide from animal-based to plant-based diets is of vital significance in meeting targets for food stability and sustainability. Decreasing meat and other animal products consumption would open up vast quantities of food that could be eaten directly by humans — such as soy and grain.

Conclusion

 Plant-based diets are more nutritious relative to meat-based diets, as they consume considerably fewer agricultural resources and are less economically harmful. The population boom around the world and the rise in demand for animal feed make the food supply unsustainable. Meat and food security are on a collision course. Changing course (to avoid the collision) will require extreme downward shifts in the consumption of meat and dairy by large segments of the world population. Although other strategies should be followed, they are inadequate to make the global food environment viable and therefore the dietary change is an imminent tactic.

Huge portions of the world’s population have thrived on plant based diets throughout history, driven either by need or by preference. In the past, the promotion of meatless diets was focused on moral, social, or political beliefs, not scientific. Empirical research has only yielded food guidelines over the last 150 years.

Agricultural and dietary strategies that contribute to plant-based diets being implemented internationally would also improve the results of food production, wellness, economic and social justice for the world’s population. Implementing these policies is not free from political obstacles but is probably the most logical, scientific, and moral course toward a prosperous future for the human race and other biosphere living creatures we share.

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