Do you know that what we eat has as much of an impact on the planet as it does on our bodies? Scientific research, along with endorsements from celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Gwyneth Paltrow, leans to a growing body of evidence that adopting a plant-based lifestyle is good for the environment and our health.
There are 3 key ways that a plant-based diet can save the planet . . . and improve your health! By transforming the earth’s production of food from livestock-based to plant-based, we can:
- Reduce global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions
- Reduce land clearing and resultant species extinctions
- Help prevent diet-related chronic diseases
The Detrimental Environmental Impact of Meat & Dairy Production
According to Times magazine, 40% of the earth’s land is used to produce food to feed the world’s population. Only about 10% of that land is used to grow fruits, grains, and vegetables for human consumption, and the rest is used to support livestock: pigs, cattle, and chicken. Livestock production uses up approximately one third of the earth’s fresh water supply and is responsible for about 18% of human-caused greenhouse gases (GHGs) around the world (according to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s report in 2006). Developed countries like the U.S. are responsible for the majority of these GHGs.
The negative environmental impact of livestock farming in nations like the U.S. that have giant factory farms that house hundreds to thousands of pigs, chickens and cows to keep up with our big appetite for meat and dairy products can be staggering. On top of producing high levels of GHGs, factory farms produce large amounts of waste that can contaminate ground water and rivers along with emitting other dangerous gases that can cause serious illness to humans (Facts about Pollution from Livestock Farming). Along with the alarming amount of pollution created by factory farms, they also contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria because of their heavy use of antibiotics (which they often use to speed the growth of livestock). The National Resource Defense Council has a collection of information about the serious threat that large livestock farms pose to humans and the environment.
The Link between Environmental Sustainability, Health & Plant-Based Diets
Looking at this small collection of facts, it is easy to see that decreasing our demand for meat and dairy products by eating more fruits, vegetables and grains would significantly reduce pollution and diminish our production of GHGs. University of Minnesota’s Professor of Ecology G. David Tilman and graduate student Michael Clark came to the same conclusion. They conducted extensive research to confirm their theory. In the process, they discovered that there are more benefits to wide-spread adoption of a plant-based diet than just environmental sustainability.
In their paper published in 2014 in the journal of Nature, Tilman and Clark collected and examined 50 years of data from the 100 most populated countries in the world. According to their findings, countries where the majority of people have a diet that is high in protein as well as rich in refined fats and sugars (like the U.S.) produce dangerously high levels of GHGs. These countries also have higher percentages of people suffering from diet-related chronic conditions and diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. In contrast, countries in which the majority of people eat a vegetarian, pescetarian or Mediterranean diet produce significantly less GHGs and have lower percentages of people who suffer from diet-related chronic conditions and diseases.
According to their research, incidents of type 2 diabetes dropped by 41 percent in nations where a vegetarian diet was followed, 25 percent where a pescetarian diet was followed (which is a vegetarian diet that includes seafood), and 16 percent where a Mediterranean diet was followed (which is a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and seafood with moderate consumption of meat). All three diets decreased the number of deaths from coronary heart disease by 20 to 26 percent.
Tilman and Clark concluded that widespread adoption of a plant-based diet within a country like the U.S. will “reduce global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, reduce land clearing and resultant species extinctions, and help prevent such diet-related chronic non-communicable diseases.”
As more Americans adopt a plant-based diet, hemp could play a significant role in making sure we continue to get enough protein and essential fatty acids (EFAs). Hemp seeds are composed of approximately 10 percent carbohydrates, 35 percent protein and 45 percent oil according to the Canadian Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food. They are a complete protein and can be used to make delicious dairy substitutes like hemp milk and hemp icecream. Like fish, hemp seed oil is rich in the EFAs omega 3 and omega 6 which our bodies need to ward off chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and eczema. Along with its nutritional benefits, increasing our cultivation of hemp is another step toward environmental sustainability. Since hemp thrives without the need for fungicides, herbicides and pesticides, it can also help reduce pollution. It can even help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere because one acre of hemp absorbs 5 times more CO2 than an acre of trees can.
By continuing to learn about ways that we can improve our health and lessen the negative impacts on the environment, perhaps we can truly be on a path to save the planet! We are doing our small part to help, by growing and producing the best hemp products without herbicides and pesticides, and creating amazing hemp products. We’d love to hear about the small (or big!) steps you’re taking to improve your health or the health of our planet!