Eating plants for the planet

Well before I was a nutritionist, I grew up in a home where vegetables were not the enemy. There was no fight to eat your peas or brussel sprouts because we all ate them and liked them (although back then they may have been covered in a bit more butter then I would add now). Even though we loved our vegetables we, like most North Americans, were meat eaters. I have fond memories of the smell of bacon cooking in the morning or my moms amazing pasta sauce with both ground beef and pork sausage or the chicken wraps she would make for me before my basketball games. It was not uncommon for my family (or any family in the "western worlds" for that matter) to eat meat at breakfast, lunch and dinner. As I became interested in nutrition I began eating less meat. Mostly because of the difficulty in getting quality organic meat free of hormones and antibiotics and the cost associated with that. But lately I have been cutting back my consumption of meat even further and for a different reason, the planet.

If you live anywhere on this great planet you are aware of Climate Change; although it is now being referred to as the Climate Crisis as its no longer going to be the problem of people many generations from now, its ours. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), consisting of more than 100 scientists from around the world released a report which found that profound and potentially devastating consequences lie ahead for marine life, Arctic ecosystems and entire human societies if climate change continues as relentlessly as it has in the last few years. We are already seeing major storm events, record high and low temperatures and both flooding and droughts all over the world. I have always cared about the planet and thought I was doing my part by doing things such as trying to shop consciously, recycling and composting and voting ensure the best people are in office. However, the recent ominous scientific reports combined with the erratic weather we seem to be experiencing almost everyday has made me realize that I (we all) need to do more.

Although we all need protein meat is actually a very inefficient way to get it environmentally speaking. The animals we eat, eat a lot (12 pounds of grain for every 1 pound of beef) and in turn poop even more, they require space to graze and large amounts of water and oil are used before they can become "food". Which is why animal agriculture accounts for significant greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use, it adds to soil erosion and pollutes our waterways.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of all greenhouse gasses, thats more than all of our transportation methods combined. Livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land use and is covering 30% of the the earth's surface. We were all angry about the Amazon (still) burning, but 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is now pasture or feed crops for farm animals. Livestock production is also very water intensive. When I use to think of saving water that meant turning off the tap while brushing my teeth, making sure the dishwasher was full before I started it or taking shorter showers, not my meat consumption. However, to make 1 pound of steak it requires 2,046 gallons of water! I was shocked to learn this. I also love going fishing with my daughter but animal agriculture is threatening our waterways too. When we experience flooding due to extreme weather factory farms as affected as well and often massive pools of animal waste make their way into our water ways. This has resulted in poisonous algae blooms, contaminated water, dead fish and fish I have no desire to eat (sushi with a side micro-plastic and cow poop, yum).

Learning all this I knew that the most appropriate action I could do to fight climate change was to significantly reduce my consumption of meat. Now look, I am not telling anyone to go Vegan or even Vegetarian. Thats not what I do. As a nutritionist I work with my clients to help them live their healthiest lives possible and if we can be good people and help the planet along the way we should; but I don't do dietary labels. When we choose what we eat it should be first because it nourishes our body and is providing us with nutrition. Second, it should be delicious; we should enjoy the process of cooking, eating and sharing food. And third, it should make us feel good; not just in our stomachs but in our souls. For me consuming meat everyday is no longer making me feel good in my soul. Knowing the destruction it is causing is not worth the taste (even of bacon).

Changes You Can Make

One of my favorite quotes (and I don't even know where it came from) is "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" make realistic changes that will work for your life. Try incorporating more whole plant based foods or a different fruit or vegetable everyday. It always sounds so cliche to say it's a lifestyle change, but it is. Make slow changes and make them for the longterm. Maybe tryout a Meatless Monday or Vegan Before 6pm where you eat no meat before dinner. Another thing is give thought to the energy gone into producing your food and use that to decide if it is still the choice for you. Chicken from a organic local farm purchased at a butcher (like the Healthy Butcher here in Toronto) or your local farmers market is a much better choice than a piece of steak of unknown origin from your grocery store. The idea is that small changes do make a big difference. According to the Environmental Defense Fund if every American skipped one meal of chicken each week the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off the roads. If you are looking to incorporate more plant based meals into your diet scroll through some of the recipes on our blog. This Monday I will also be starting a series of Meatless Monday recipes that anyone can make, so stay tuned!