The Healing Diet - Part #1The Land
What if I told you there was a diet that could heal the planet? A diet that would reduce greenhouse gases, give land back to nature, let the oceans heal and help clean our water and air? Now what if I told you that same diet made our families healthier by massively reducing the chances of heart disease, diabetes and cancer while providing more energy and athletic ability? Lastly, what if I told you that this is the same diet that science has recently proved our ancestors ate from cavemen to the Gladiators of Rome.
I'm speaking of a "mostly" plant based diet.
To be up front, I am a vegetarian who eats vegan a few days a week. I was not always a vegetarian. I was an athlete who grew up believing that animal protein was king, so I ate a lot of meat and and eggs and cheese. As I will outline over the next 3 segments is that I was simply wrong in this approach on so many fronts. I originally made the decision to “reduce” my meat intake after researching the huge negative impact this industry has on the planet. Then I was shocked to find out that not only was a plant based diet better for you in every way but that animal products were the cause of many of our leading health issues. The more I researched, the less meat I ate, the better I felt until I simply stopped eating it.
Now I am not going to try and convince you to become a vegan or vegetarian. What I am going to do is show you the global and personal impact that food choices we make every day have on our lives and how making a few different ones can have major positive ripple effects.
In part #1 we are going to look at the overall impact that land based meat production has on the planet
According to the UN and Seirra Club between and18%-30% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions are from raising animals for consumption. That is more greenhouse gas emissions than every car, plane, train and boat on the planet every year. Let that sync in…when you eat meat you are attributing to more greenhouse gas emissions than driving your car.
60% of the worlds agricultural land is used for beef production alone but it represents only 2% of our total global calories. 2%!
All livestock (cattle, chicken pigs, sheep ect..) take up over 80% of global farmland but only offer 20% of global calories.
Of the total habitable land in the contiguous US, urban areas take up 3.6%, the crops we eat take up 20% BUT 41% of our land goes to house and feed the animals we eat.
50% of all grain produced in the US goes to feed livestock. That is enough grain to feed 800 million people or over twice the US population every year.
80% of all antibiotics consumed in the US are used for our meat and dairy supply giving rise to the current resistant super bugs.
It takes more water to produce one cheeseburger than the average family of 4 uses for drinking water, cleaning and bathing per day.
I could rattle these stats off for another hour, but the fact is that animal agriculture has a massive impact on the planet in the way we raise it and at the rate in which we eat it. In the wild a single meat eater like a lion requires 100 prey animals meaning their presence requires a huge expanse of land and resources to feed themselves. We create the same situation when we decide to eat a heavy animal based diet. In fact, if the world adopted the meat consumption of the US (top 3 meat eating nation) it would take approximately 137% of the worlds habitable land to grow food for the population. Conversely if the world adopted India’s diet which is highly plant based and low on animal products, we would only require 22% of the worlds habitable land as of 2017.
With world populations set to go from 8 to 10 billion over the next 20 years the planet simply cannot sustain that many large meat eaters. The more meat we eat the more we stress the environment, reduce biodiversity, increase pollution and create more food scarcity for our poorest citizens.
But there is a simple solution. The regenerative diet. What is the regenerative diet? It is a way of eating and sourcing our food in ways that promote soil health, sequesters greenhouse gases and restore balance to nature so it can keep on producing for us.
There are really three pillars of eating a regenerative diet 1) Reduce our intake of animal products in the way of meat, eggs and dairy 2) Ensure that we support farms that promote soil health and regenerative farming practices, including if and when we choose to eat animal products 3) Where possible we grow our own food
That's a lot to take in but let us break it down a bit.
If we all moved to a "mostly" plant based diet, we could reduce farmland globally by nearly 50% giving the natural world back millions of acres of forests, jungles, grasslands and wild places to help sequester CO2 and bring back bio diversity. This would also decrease the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and would improve water quality and help our pollinators, that are so vital to our own lives, repopulate.
When we do eat meat, we can make the decision to only consume pasture raised animals which can sequester CO2 using regenerative farming practices. Well managed truly pasture raised animals through their hooves and droppings actually promote soil health, plant health and those things combined actually reduce greenhouse gases vs. 99% of our industrial meat supply, which are packed into feed lots or grow houses with grains shipped in that give off massive amounts of CO2 and Methane. The concentrated waste of these grow houses that typically flow into sewage holding ponds also contaminate both surface and ground water when they overflow killing fish and wildlife populations in our waterways. In pasture raised versions the waste is spread out, into an area of land covered in plants, then trampled into the ground and rejuvenates soils and feed those very same plants. The same holds true for our the fruits and vegetables we buy. They more we can buy from organic farms that practice soil health and regenerative farming the better.
The last is to grow our own food when and where we can. Put in a garden, throw some herbs in a window box. We can grow food virtually anywhere and we will have several posts on different ways in which to incorporate growing food into your life. If every home in the US grew just 5 more edible plants per year in their home, patio or backyard we could take over 25 million pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year.
Now going to a plant based or mostly plant based diet doesn't mean you have to eat boring salads everyday. There are incredibly delicious meat substitutes out in the market that mimic everything from beef to seafood that are available in your local grocery store. In addition there are hundreds of incredible vegetarian recipes available online that have deep rich flavors that rival any meat based meal. Lastly we can also look at meat in a different way as part of our meal. Instead of making a chicken breast or steak the center of the meal we can make it a part of a pasta, stir fry, soup or salad. Instead of 4 steaks for the family dinner use one steak in a stir fry with rice and plenty of veggies.
As I said early on in this post, my goal is not to make everybody a vegetarian but to make you think about your choices in diet, how they impact the planet and our overall health. Take some small steps. Plan a day or two each week to not eat meat, utilize meals that meat is not the centerpiece, try experiment with some new things (I've made dozens of new dishes to me since going vegetarian), have a plant based burger for lunch and I promise, not only will you not miss it you will be doing something good for your body...as I will outline in part #3 of this series.
Simply, every time you choose to eat a plant based product vs. a meat based product, you are making a positive impact on the planet and your own health.