Is a Plant-Based Diet Better For the Environment? An Impact Overview

As we continue exploring solutions and ways to mitigate climate change, there’s an important factor we need to consider—our diet. 

The way we’re growing, processing, and consuming food is having a tremendous impact on the environment. The quick industrialization of food has completely changed the way we eat. And it has created a separation between people and food. 

In this blog, we’re taking a look at our current diet and how it’s impacting the environment and people’s well-being. We’re also covering areas of opportunity for businesses to do better for the planet and their communities. 

The Impact of Meat Production 

The severe impact of meat production goes way beyond CO2 emissions—even though 60% of all emissions from food production come from meat. Our huge appetite for meat is also responsible for deforestation, air and water pollution, land use, food insecurity, and more. 

It’s important to truly understand the impact of our dinner plate. And how we can do better as a global community to feed the world while also protecting the environment. 

Deforestation, Land Use, and Monoculture Agriculture

Farming animals for meat requires a lot of resources—land being one of the main ones. Cattle need a lot of space, and to make that space, we’re resorting to deforestation. In fact, more than 70% of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is to make more space for farming. 

But the issue with land use doesn’t stop there. Cows need to eat and to feed the 1.5 billion cows we’re slaughtering every year, we need to grow a lot of food for them. Of all the food we grow, 80% is used to feed livestock. Yet, it creates less than 20% of the planet’s calorie supply. 

These statistics clearly show us how unbalanced and unsustainable our food system is. 

Over 820 million people go hungry every day. And we’re producing enough food for everyone, but instead of feeding people, we’re feeding livestock.

Plus, to grow livestock feed we rely on monoculture, which opens up another can of worms. It’s destroying our soil, impacting biodiversity, and polluting air and water with toxic chemicals—which also end up on our dinner plates. 

Water Use 

Meat production is not only responsible for an unfair food production system and deforestation. Our water supply and air quality are also paying a hefty price. 

This graph shows how much water all the different foods we’re growing need.

Beef needs a staggering amount of water to produce very little food. And as many countries face droughts, we urgently need to be smart about our water usage. Plus, meat is responsible for 18% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s clear that we need to find a better balance in our diets. The earth provides us with so much more than a few animals to eat. And we have the capacity to grow enough food to provide food security to every community on the planet. 

This balance starts with a plant-based diet. 

What is a Plant-Based Diet? 

The trend towards an eco-conscious diet continues to grow. Research showed that the number of people going vegan in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2019. This trend could be monumental in building a more sustainable and fair food system. 

But vegan and plant-based aren’t the same. A plant-based diet it’s primarily (but not strictly) made of plants like fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds. Animal products are still consumed on occasion but the majority of calorie intake comes from plants. 

Finding Balance for a Well-Fed Planet 

The numbers don’t lie. Farming is having a huge impact on the environment and on people’s health & well-being. And a balanced, plant-based diet could be a driving factor in solving this issue. 

A sustainable diet doesn’t necessarily mean you need to quit animal products altogether. It’s about finding a balance between animal and plant-based products. Our planet simply can’t sustain a world where most people are carnivores. 

For a sustainable future to be possible, we need to understand the impact of our dinner plate. And take action to change it for the better. 

Areas of Opportunity for Businesses in the Food & Drink Industry 

There is a big need for a better food system and for people to change their diet—but also for businesses to tap into this growing movement. It takes a village to change habits that are deeply rooted in our systems.

For this change to happen, there are two main areas of opportunity for businesses…

Creating more plant-based products

Most packed products at supermarkets contain animal products. Surprisingly, products like jelly, juice, white sugar, flavored chips, and others sometimes use animal products. Plus, plant-based products cast a wide net—anyone can consume them. 

A person who is vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian, or carnivore can still eat plant-based products. On the other hand, a vegan and some vegetarians can’t eat non-vegan foods. 

We’re too reliant on animal ingredients for all kinds of products, and it’s time to shift away from that. To feed the world and sustain life on earth, we need to adapt our diet to what the planet can provide. 

As a business, it’s important to support plant-based suppliers where possible and explore the feasibility of plant-based alternatives to our own products in the medium and long term.

Helping people change their perception of plant-based products 

While more and more people are becoming aware of the importance of a plant-based diet, most people are still reluctant to make the shift. This is normal. But it’s important to help people understand why it matters. And what a plant-based diet truly is. 

The more options are made available, the more we speak about it, and the more awareness we raise, the quicker we can make an impact on the planet. 

Information is key for creating a sustainable food system that respects planetary boundaries, feeds communities, and keeps the population healthy. 

Get Started on Your Sustainable Journey With ENSO! 

Ready to boost your business’s sustainability performance? At ENSO, we help you strategise, take action, and communicate your sustainable efforts—even if you don’t know where to start. Our platform works with your unique business needs to create an impactful sustainable model. 

Benchmarking and improving your sustainability performance has never been easier. 

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