Did you know: How Plant-Based Food Can Help Save the Planet
The world faces a multitude of environmental challenges, and one of the most pressing issues is climate change. As the global population grows and demand for food increases, the traditional methods of food production have taken a toll on the planet's resources and ecosystems.
However, there is hope for a sustainable future in the form of plant-based food. Embracing a plant-based diet can significantly contribute to mitigating the environmental impacts of food production and help save the planet. In this essay, we will explore how plant-based food can play a vital role in addressing climate change, conserving natural resources, protecting biodiversity, and improving human health.
Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Human Health Benefits
Animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane and nitrous oxide.
Livestock farming, particularly cattle, generates substantial emissions due to enteric fermentation and manure decomposition. Plant-based foods account for just 29% of greenhouse gases emitted by the global food industry. In contrast, 57% of greenhouse gas emissions in the industry are linked to breeding and rearing cows, pigs and other livestock, as well as producing their feed. Grazing land for ruminants accounts for 26% of the world’s ice-free land surface, and worldwide, about 100 million hectares of land is used to grow crops for livestock.
These greenhouse gases significantly contribute to global warming and climate change. By shifting towards a plant-based diet, individuals can drastically reduce their carbon footprint and mitigate climate change. Plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, have a much lower carbon footprint compared to animal-derived products, making them an eco-friendly choice. Additional benefit of plant-based eating has been associated with reduced body weight and lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers when compared to an omnivorous diet (a diet which includes both plant foods and animal products). A healthier population means reduced healthcare costs and a more productive society.
Preservation of Water Resources
The agricultural sector is a significant consumer of freshwater resources, and animal farming requires significantly more water compared to plant-based agriculture. From providing drinking water to animals to irrigating the vast fields of feed crops, a considerable amount of water is utilised throughout the livestock supply chain. By opting for plant-based foods, water consumption can be reduced, alleviating pressure on already stressed water sources and conserving this precious resource for future generations.
Quote from an article “The Human League”: Fresh water is critical to the survival of civilisations, ecosystems and living beings worldwide. But much as we all depend on water, some industries are notorious for their unsustainable water usage and their rising contribution to water pollution. A prime offender? Factory farms…
Protection of Forests and Biodiversity
Expanding animal agriculture has led to deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats to create pastureland and grow feed crops. The loss of forests contributes to the decline of biodiversity, disrupts ecosystems, and threatens countless plant and animal species. Beef, soy and palm oil are responsible for 60% of tropical deforestation for example. If we want to tackle deforestation we also need to know what causes it. That allows us to avoid the foods that drive deforestation or innovate the ways we produce them.
Plant-based diets typically require less land and resources, allowing for more sustainable land management practices. By reducing the demand for animal products, we can work towards reforesting and restoring natural ecosystems, which are vital for maintaining biodiversity and ensuring the health of the planet.
Conventional animal agriculture often involves intensive grazing practices that lead to soil degradation and erosion. Moreover, the excessive use of fertilisers and chemicals in feed crops has a detrimental impact on soil health. In contrast, plant-based agriculture encourages sustainable farming methods, such as crop rotation and organic farming, which help preserve soil fertility and structure. Healthier soils enhance agricultural productivity and contribute to carbon sequestration, playing a significant role in combating climate change.
Energy Efficiency and Resource Conservation
Producing animal-based foods is generally less efficient in terms of energy and resource utilisation. It takes several kilograms of plant-based feed to produce just one kilogram of meat, leading to a considerable waste of resources. By consuming plant-based foods directly, we bypass the inefficiencies of the food chain and optimise resource utilisation. This increased efficiency will free up land and resources for alternative uses, including rewilding or sustainable agriculture.
Quote from an article “A well fed world”: Have you ever heard the claim that 86% of animal feed is inedible to humans? This statistic is often used to imply that animal farming merely uses the waste from farming human food. However, the research behind this figure shows the opposite; animal feed competes with food security!
Mitigating Ocean Degradation
The impact of animal agriculture extends to our oceans as well. Overfishing and fish farming have caused significant damage to marine ecosystems, leading to the loss of biodiversity and disruption of aquatic habitats. As plant-based food becomes more prevalent, the demand for fish and seafood may decrease, reducing pressure on marine resources and allowing fish populations to recover.
Furthermore, in Australia - for example - runoff from farmland can often wash fertilisers, pesticides and sediment from the land into bodies of water. All waterways and creeks eventually lead to our oceans. The runoff of these pollutants from agriculture is, therefore, a major threat to inshore coral reefs and seagrass meadows in our Great Barrier Reef.
Plant-based food presents a promising solution to some of the most urgent environmental challenges we face today. By embracing plant-based diets, we can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve water and other natural resources, protect biodiversity, promote sustainable land use, and enhance human health.
This collective effort can help save the planet for current and future generations, ensuring a sustainable and thriving future. Policymakers, businesses, and individuals must work together to support and promote plant-based food options, making them more accessible and mainstream. Through small everyday choices, we can all contribute to a healthier planet and secure a brighter future for all life on Earth.