It’s National Vegetarian Week, a time to make vegetables and fruits the hero of our plates and an opportunity to make our diets more varied and fuller in fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s easy to take inspiration from China and Malaysia, where much of the food is plant-based, or look to the variety of salads, vegetable stews, pasta and rice dishes which form part of the Mediterranean diet.
The health benefits of moderating your meat and dairy intake and increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables we eat include lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease. But these choices also go a step further and contribute towards the health of our planet.
Duncan Williamson, Food Policy Manager at WWF-UK, explains just some of the ways your food choices can positively impact on the environment and the future of our planet.
Combat climate change
Food is currently responsible for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe alone, more than even the transport sector. Meat and livestock are the biggest contributor to this, with farming and feed production being major contributors.
By reducing meat consumption, and eating less dairy products, we can reduce the carbon footprint of our diets and help to tackle climate change in the process. And if we all adopted more sustainable diets, we’d be able to reduce the carbon emissions of our food system by 30% by 2030.
Protect vital wildlife habitats
Agriculture is the biggest cause of forest loss, devastating forests worldwide that are home to some of our most vulnerable and precious wildlife species. In fact, the way we produce our food is actually leading to species extinctions, as we take their habitat and convert it to land for agriculture.
The largest impact actually comes from what we’re feeding our livestock – in particular poultry and pigs. The huge amount of land needed to produce protein-rich feeds such as soy is having severe effects on species and their habitats, especially in vulnerable areas such as the Amazon, the Brazilian Cerrado, the Congo Basin and the Himalayas. What’s more, using soy to feed livestock is inefficient: it takes half a kilogram of soy to produce just one kilogram of pork.
Reduce over-consumption to save our planet
In the UK, we eat too much protein, and over a third of the protein we eat comes from animal sources. This affects our carbon and land footprint. In 2010, we used an area the size of Yorkshire to produce enough soy just to feed our livestock. If global demand grows as anticipated, we’d need to step up our feed production 80% by 2050, which just isn’t sustainable.
This National Vegetarian Week, take the opportunity to eat more fruit, vegetables, nuts and pulses. This doesn’t mean cutting out meat and dairy entirely – an omnivorous diet can be low carbon and healthy. In doing so, you could be opening yourself up to a whole new range of recipes and exciting, healthy food combinations.