It is estimated that by 2050 the global population will reach 9 billion people. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.
Food production dominates our landscapes using approximately 40% of the ice-free land on Earth, yet every day billions of people around the world go without enough to eat.
If the world adopted a plant-based diet, we would reduce global agricultural land use from 4 to 1 billion hectares. We can literally use our knives and forks to vote for a cleaner and greener future for Earth and at the same time, a healthier future for ourselves too. Doesn’t that sound like something we can all get behind?
Whilst this blog will only scratch upon the surface of what is one of the most important topics in the world today, I hope that it will give you some insight into how we can eat for a healthier and more sustainable future.
The biggest problem our planet faces right now is our insatiable appetite for animal produce.
According to an article in Time magazine, “there may be no other single human activity that has a bigger impact on the Earth than the raising of livestock.” And when we look more closely at our food supply the more we realize that our reliance on animals for food is outdated and grossly unsustainable.
Take the rainforest for example, of which over 80,000 acres are destroyed every day. That’s an area half the size of England each year.
Over 70% of this deforestation is to clear space for cattle ranches.
And here’s where it gets really crazy…
Over a third of the world’s farm land is currently used to grow food for factory farmed animals. These animals eat enough to feed 9 billion people. This, co-incidentally, is the same number that experts predict will be walking the earth by the middle of the century.
Putting it another way, we already have more than enough resources to feed the world on a plant based diet. Animal agriculture also relies on intensive water use with over 14,000 litres of water required to produce just 1 kilogram of beef. That’s enough drinking water for one person for over 19 years.
That’s the urgent call from leading scientific researchers in a new report (https://www.thelancet.com/commissions/EAT) in The Lancet. After reviewing the effects of food production on human health and the environment, they concluded that a dietary shift toward plant foods and away from animal products is vital for promoting human health and the health of our planet.
The researchers concluded that eating plant-based would help:
1. Save lives. The report found that “unhealthy diets are the largest global burden of disease,” having surpassed even tobacco use as the leading cause of death and disease worldwide. Eating more plants and fewer animal products could prevent 10.9 to 11.6 million premature deaths from heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions every year, according to the researchers.
2. Alleviate hunger. The report found that more than 820 million people around the world lack sufficient food. It also noted that “almost two thirds of all soybeans, maize, barley, and about a third of all grains are used as feed for animals.”
3. Save water. Agriculture accounts for about 70 percent of freshwater use, making it “the world’s largest water-consuming sector.” Meat and dairy products lead the way in guzzling up large quantities of water. Producing just a pound of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water.
4. Minimize agricultural land use. The report found that agriculture occupies 40 percent of Earth’s ice-free landmass, noting that animal products have a large environmental footprint on our croplands. Another 2017 study projected that if we ate more beans and less beef, we would require 42 percent less cropland. (https://www.pcrm.org/news/health-nutrition/substituting-beans-beef-beneficial-environment)
In 2015, a Frontiers in Nutrition study compared the environmental impact of a vegetarian diet including eggs and dairy, with an omnivorous diet that included 1 serving of meat per day. The researchers also found that a vegan diet, where no animal products are consumed, had a carbon footprint that was a further 31% lower than the vegetarian diet.
There’s no denying the evidence. The first step we must take to save our planet is to dramatically reduce our consumption of animal products.
According to environmental expert Ryan Andrews, 90% of fish stocks in the ocean are exploited or overexploited. If overfishing and pollution continue at the current rate we can expect to see a complete collapse in the world’s fish populations by 2048.
The main issue with modern day fishing is that it is done on such an enormous scale, with hulking vessels of steel trawling with nets up to 50 miles long. They scoop up whole ecosystems in one swoop, causing damage which our oceans just cannot replenish.
Another issue with fish is the toxins that they contain due to our pollution of the oceans. Besides being an environmental disaster, this is also seriously bad news for your health.
And to top it all off, our production and consumption habits have been linked to the emergence of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19.
You may be wondering why this is all of a sudden such a hot topic when humans have consumed meat for several million years. This meat and dairy heavy diet, adopted by the developing world, has seen the average amount of meat consumed per person increase from 23kg in 1961 to 49kg in 2017.
Cowspiracy estimates that the fresh water needed to produce the meat in one hamburger is equivalent to an average human being have a shower for 2 whole months. So, whilst we’ve all been diligently turning the tap off when we brush our teeth, having shorter showers and using the low-flush button on the toilet, popping to our local burger restaurant is having a far greater impact on our water consumption. Friends of the Earth estimate that adopting a vegetarian diet (so still consuming some dairy products) could decrease your water-related footprint by 36%. (https://friendsoftheearth.uk/sustainable-living/13-best-ways-save-water)
According to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, it takes up to 10 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat, and in the United States alone, 56 million acres of land are used to grow feed for animals, while only 4 million acres are used to produce plants for humans to eat. Doesn’t this feel back to front when there are still millions of children dying of malnutrition every year?
Switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change, UN experts have said.
Scientists and officials stopped short of explicitly calling on everyone to become vegan or vegetarian.
The document, prepared by 107 scientists for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says that if land is used more effectively, it can store more of the carbon emitted by humans.
The bottom line is that cradle to grave, a predominantly or entirely plant-based diet has consistently been identified as the most environmentally sustainable.
This is not about pushing a plant-based message — the simple, environmental truth is that we need to eat less meat and dairy — much less. Our challenge is clear: we need to produce more food than ever before, but do so in a way that emits drastically fewer emissions than at present. Quite simply, in a world of almost 8 billion people with a finite amount of land and resources, current rates of meat consumption simply cannot be sustainably maintained. (https://fcrn.org.uk/fcrn-blogs/expert-commentary-prof-johan-rockstr%C3%B6m )
Remember, to create a better world we need ‘buy in’ from billions of people. Rather than millions adopting a plant-based diet perfectly, we need billions doing it imperfectly.
The good news is that we still have time to rectify this and prepare for our growing population.
This is a great opportunity for us to live and eat like previous generations, armed with the knowledge that our actions are quite literally saving the planet! With so many inspirational chefs, books and blogs, plant-based meals are now so filling and full of flavor and texture, it makes it so easy to cut down on animal products.