Recently, Sara Dreibelbis, a senior journalism major at Ball State University emailed me to let me know she was taking a class that focused on reporting on environmental issues and sustainability. For her final project, she did an in-depth, research-based piece on the environmental affects of agriculture, specifically meat production, and the potential environmental benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets. She asked if I would contribute a few of my ideas and findings to her article and I was happy to do so. The finished piece was so impressive, I asked Sara if she would like to share an excerpt from the with article us on the Jazzy Vegetarian blog and she graciously agreed to do so, along with one of her own vegan recipes. It seemed appropriate here too, to post some great photos shared via Farm Sanctuary.
I am thrilled that so many young people are interested and getting involved in animal rights causes and sustainability issues relating specifically to our food choices, along with the awakening that - Food Matters.
Food Matters: The Environmental Impacts of Food Choices
By Sara Dreibelbis
Everyone eats, and all of that food adds up to a big environmental impact.
The food sector as a whole contributes 29 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, according to CGIAR, a global agricultural research organization. While driving less, reducing electricity and water use, and recycling can help the environment, one third of global emissions that contribute to climate change still come from food choices.
Some of the most environmentally damaging foods to produce are animal products, like meat, dairy and eggs. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production is responsible for about 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. A 2012 report from the United Nations found that the consumption of one kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of beef has nearly the same environmental impact as driving a car 99 miles.
Greenhouse gas emissions aren’t the only negative impact of animal production. Waste from industrial livestock operations also contains highly concentrated amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as trace amounts of heavy metals and antibiotics. The USDA and the World Health Organization have said these pollutants can cause serious public health problems when they run into drinking water supplies.
With animal-based agriculture contributing so much to global warming and pollution, one way to live more sustainably could be to decrease consumption of meat and other animal-based products.
“With a burgeoning global human population expected to reach 9.6 billion by the year 2050…we will need to produce food with certain questions firmly in mind,” said Richard Oppenlander, author of the books “Food Choice and Sustainability” and “Comfortably Unaware” and winner of the 2014 International Book Award. “Which foods require the very least amount of our finite natural resources? Which foods have the very least affect on climate change?”
One way to address these questions could be for individuals to reduce meat consumption or adopt a plant-based diet like vegetarianism or veganism.
An average 2,000 calorie diet that is high in meat consumption generates about 2.5 times more greenhouse gas emissions than a vegan diet, according to the study “Dietary Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Meat-Eaters, Fish-Eaters, Vegetarians and Vegans in the UK,” which was published in the journal Climatic Change. The study also found that the average greenhouse gas emissions for vegetarian diets were about half the emissions of high meat diets. Overall, the less meat and animal products a diet contains, the less greenhouse gases it emits.
The idea of a diet based on omitting certain foods might seem restrictive, but those who follow plant-based diets disagree. Laura Theodore, a vegan blogger, cookbook author, and TV and radio host of “The Jazzy Vegetarian,” says that even with a strict vegan diet, options are not limited when it comes to making and eating good food.
“The possibilities are endless,” Theodore said. “There is a misconception that [plant-based] diets are bland and tasteless, but the food is great – and I know because I love food!”
Plant-based diets can also be part of a healthy lifestyle. Amanda Kruse is a wellness nutritionist at Ball State University. She said that plant-based diets tend to be lower in saturated fats and cholesterol than meat-based diets. They also tend to have more beneficial nutrients like vitamins, fiber and unsaturated fats.
“Plant-based diets can assist with weight control, lowering of blood pressure and a decreased risk for heart disease,” Kruse said.
Kruse said an important first step for individuals beginning plant-based diets is to do research and decide what type of diet will be best for their individual needs. She also suggested making the transition to vegetarianism or veganism gradually.
“Take it one meal at a time,” said Theodore. “If you have never eaten a vegan meal before, start by adding one plant-powered meal per week into your menu plan, then progress at your own pace from there. That way, it’s easy.”
Veganism is the most extreme plant-based diet, but even subtle decreases in meat consumption can make for a more sustainable diet. If every individual ate one less burger a week, it would have the same environmental impact as taking that person’s car off the road for 320 miles, according to the Environmental Working Group.
Everyone eats, and the choices made at every meal and snack can contribute not only to a person’s individual health, but also to the health of the planet and its environment.
Slow Cooker Lentil Vegetable Stew
by Sara Dreibelbis
16 oz dried lentils
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small head cauliflower, chopped into small florets
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 cups vegetable broth
1 large can (32 ounces) diced tomatoes
2 cups kale, Swiss chard or spinach, chopped
Go through the lentils and remove any stones or impurities. Rinse lentils in a strainer and allow to drain.
Heat oil in a large pan over medium. Add onion and saute for about 5 minutes, or until softened. Add garlic and saute for another minute.
Pour cooked onions into the bottom of a slow cooker, then add lentils and remaining ingredients.
Stir to combine, then cover slow cooker. Cook on high for 6 hours or on low for 8 hours, or until the lentils are tender.
Sara Dreibelbis is a journalism student at Ball State University. She created this blog as part of a final project for a course in science writing and reporting that focused on sustainability, News 418. Sara has been vegetarian for nearly seven years and enjoys cooking creative, nutritious, meat-free meals. All of the recipes and photographs on this blog are from her own kitchen, and she hopes you enjoy them! To read the entire article and learn more about Sara – click here.