Helping the environment by changing your diet

A recent research has precisely calculated and compared the exact environmental impacts of a nutritionally-sound and safe plant-based diet with those of meat-based or meat-inclusive diets. The goal was to see that if nutritional RDAs were satisfied, how much smaller of an impact on the environment could the food systems produce if livestock was to be removed from the equation.

In the States, but also in many other countries across the world, especially in the west, the amount of plant-based dietary products is too small. Especially after understanding that meals that contain no meat account for a minuscule percentage of the overall meals. Very few people choose to have solely plant-based meals.

Image source: Photo by Kien Cuong Bui on Unsplash

Much of the arable land in America is used for corn and soy production. These crops are often either processed into compounds, used in packaged foods as a commodity to be exported (usually to China), or used as feed for animals, which is far from optimal to say the least.

Brad’s college based researchers found that replacing meat with plant alternatives saves approximately 72 million acres of cropland, 6.6 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer, and 308,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year in their estimation. However, food-related water use was projected to rise by 15% to keep up with these numbers.

Image source: Photo by Yoav Aziz on Unsplash

The researchers calculated the plant-based diet to match the nutrient contents of meat-inclusive diets, while also covering 43 other important nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. The diets consisted mostly of asparagus, buckwheat, tofu, green pepper, squash and similar versatile products. Diets were modeled to precisely match the protein content of the meat they replaced: 13 grams of protein per day for those who get their protein primarily from beef, or 30 grams of protein per day for a diet consisting of chicken and pork as well.

Gidon Eshel, the author of the very paper which was published in Nature magazine in early 2020, that brought this information to light, stated that “no B-12 is supplied by the plant-based diets,” although he added that “a simple B-12 supplement will do [for consumers], or a tablespoon of brewer’s yeast.” This was in response to many concerns about the lack of natural occurring B-12 in these plant-based sustenance programs.

Image source: Photo by Vita Marija Murenaite on Unsplash

He added that his team is planning to build on their success to further expand the hypothesized diet to ensure the adequate inclusion of all 9 essential amino acids. These are contained within the broad nutritional designation of proteins, and represent 9 compounds humans must have in order to survive, but that cannot be synthesized by our own bodies, meaning that it is essential we acquire them through dietary means. These are things like leucine, lysine, and tryptophan.

While it will be a tremendously difficult task to convince Americans, or any other nation in the world, to be honest, to stop eating meat, Dr. Williams has an idea to create a more natural, robust, and carbon-friendly food system through the practices of regenerative agriculture. In his opinion, the farms of America are covered in crops almost year-round, not only at harvest time. The bare brown earth which covers the nation’s farmland during two thirds of the year is baked by the sun during the day. This draws carbon out of the soil and into the atmosphere much faster than if the soil was covered by plants.

Image source: Photo by Iñigo De la Maza on Unsplash

The squash, asparagus, and green peppers of Dr. Eshel’s protein-modeled diets would sit in rows alongside all manner of other plant species such as those necessary for the sustained existence of pollinators, or other cover crops used in medicines and foodstuffs alike. The diversity of the crops increases the diversity of soil microbes which creates a healthier, more nutritionally-dense soil, which according Dr. Allen will not require synthetic fertilizer of any kind.

Finally, introducing cattle or other livestock onto the paddock in a rotational grazing pattern will increase the soil diversity even further, raising strong, healthy, and happy animals of all sorts, in a humane way. In a recent radio appearance on the Sustainable Dish Podcast, Dr. Allen stated that this method could finish 50 million head of beef cattle, if done at a nationwide-scale, of course. This could be enough to satisfy the beef needs of meat-eating Americans, and create a more complete picture of a farmer’s paddock; a regenerative partnership with nature, that equally goes both ways, rather than the diminishing exploitative picture we see today.