Our Food Choices Can Make a Difference to the Health of our Planet

By Bronagh Loughlin

As people become increasingly curious of food trends and more eco-conscious, we are seeing a surge in plant-based food diets. From supermarkets advertising new plant-based frozen food ranges to fast food restaurants releasing plant-based burgers and influencers posting their plant-based dishes across their feeds, these kinds of diets are becoming rather popular. 

For those who do not know, a plant-based food diet is not the same as a vegan or vegetarian diet. While their diet is mainly comprised of plants, hence the name, people with plant-based diets can still eat animal products. They simply eat meat and dairy at a reduced rate. 

Plant-based diets have become more popular in recent years due to the good impacts they can have on an individual’s health and on the environment. These high vegetable and fruit-based diets drastically reduce your carbon footprint.  

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that livestock production is responsible for around 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while other organisations such as the Worldwatch Institute have said it could be as much as 51 percent.  

Manure from livestock is responsible for around 37 percent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions also. Manure and its management in factory farm‘lagoons’ produce great quantities of methane, a gas which warms the Earth 20 times quicker than carbon dioxide.  

Coupled with the transportation and the fuel used to grow feed for the livestock and we are speaking of a very large carbon footprint. Plant-based diets also help the environment by conserving water. 

It takes around 1,000 gallons of water to create just one gallon of milk, according to the Water Footprint Network. 

That statistic alone would be enough to steer any eco-conscious individual away from animal products. In the US, roughly 87 percent of all fresh water usage is used in agriculture. When you take into consideration that it needs around 100 times more water to produce a pound of animal protein as opposed to a pound of grain protein, it is clear how reducing the animal products you eat will lower the enormous amount of valuable water we waste. 

Another big reason for the surge in plant-based diets is that these lifestyles save animal and plant habitats. Nearly a third of arable land is utilised for animal agriculture and much of it is to just feed the cattle, chicken and pigs.  

This is why animal agriculture has become a major contributor to desertification and deforestation, which occurs when livestock grazing destroys native vegetation and 

quickens up soil erosion. Both phenomena contribute to the extinction of whole species of animals such as, sloths, red pandas and orangutangs.  

Animal agriculture is the leading cause of ocean dead zones and water pollution also. The waste that comes from factory farms is stored in large lagoons and applied, untreated, to crops as fertiliser. The hundreds of toxins in such big quantities of manure cannot be absorbed by the soil, and instead find their way into groundwater and then into oceans and rivers, where they destroy marine ecosystems.  

One example of such contamination is the Gulf of Mexico, where the Mississippi River, which was polluted with farm animal waste from the Midwest, lets out. Oxygen depletion from fertilizer and animal manure created roughly an 8,500 square foot dead zone, which practically killed off all marine life.  

The manure is also responsible for producing ammonia, which is the most potent form of nitrogen. It causes algae blooms, kills fish and contributes to smog. In addition, the air which surrounds factory farms generally contains above average levels of hydrogen sulfide, particular matter, endotoxins and our climate change enemies: methane and carbon dioxide. 

You can make a true difference by adopting a plant-based diet and the reasons above certainly explain the surge in these diets. A plant-based diet is not a huge commitment like veganism or vegetarianism, you can still eat animal products, you just have to reduce your consumption of these products.  

Our food choices have the power to heal our broken food systems, provide species with a fighting chance for survival and pace the way for a true sustainable future. By opting for a plant-based diet or more plant-based food options, you can cut your carbon footprint drastically, save precious water supplies and help to make sure that vital crop resources are fed to people as opposed to livestock. With the wealth of available plant-based options out there, it has never been easier to eat with the health of the planet in mind.

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