Over the years, there has been an increase in support to embrace diets that avoid or severely limit the consumption of animal-based products and procure its nutrition from plant-based products. Whether for reasons of health, the environment or animal rights, several million people, specifically in advanced economies, have abandoned a meat heavy diet in favour of plant-based diets. Experts believe that a plant-based diet places the emphasis on foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and limits food like meats, dairy and eggs. It can be looked at as an umbrella category for other diets that are solely or primarily made up of plant foods.
Data from M.L. McCullough’s article in the Journal of Nutrition, titled “Diet Patterns and Mortality: Common Threads and Consistent Results” (2014), reveals that the three diet plans that consistently had a low mortality score all included high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and legumes and focused on low consumption of red and processed meat. The conclusion this analysis reached was that diet patterns that had a low risk of mortality were “built on a common core of a diet rich in plant foods, which is supported by extensive scientific evidence.”
Waste production and land usage are also at an all-time high with the consumption of animal products. Research reveals that a dairy farm with 2500 cows produces as much waste as a city of 411,000 people. The land utilised for a person per year if they are vegan is one-sixth of an acre, if they are vegetarian it is three times that of a vegan, whereas a meat eater's use of land is eighteen times that of a person with a vegan diet. Animal agriculture is also one of the largest users of global fresh water sources. In 2017, 70% of the resources were being employed for purposes of animal agriculture, one-third of which was needed solely to grow crops for the animals. On the other hand, if a person on a daily basis eats a vegan diet, they save 1100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forest cover, 20 lbs of CO2 equivalent and one animal’s life.
Ethical vegans argue that an animal, like a human, is a sentient being, capable of feeling pain, and thereby deserves a free life. Modern agricultural practices allow for the keeping of livestock in cramped cages, sheds, crates in unsanitary conditions – where the animals are deprived of any care, get afflicted with diseases and eventually die a painful death. Animals are routinely injected with hormones to make them grow bigger and faster - the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is not uncommon on dairy farms even though it has been recognised as a chemical.
Experts agree that a well-planned vegan diet can provide ample amounts of nutrition to the human body. Beans, lentils and legumes are an excellent source of protein in any vegan and vegetarian diet. Soy products like tofu, soya milk - rich in protein - are known alternatives to animal products and can be used in a variety of ways. In fact, these products are also filled with other nutrients such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12. Seitan is an effective mock meat and is sourced from wheat gluten. It contains about 25 grams of protein per 100 grams. It is also filled with other nutrients such as selenium and small portions of calcium, iron and phosphorus. Similarly, there are many other plant-based foods that can be part of a vegan diet and provide adequate nutrition to the human body.
All of the above evidence points to the fact that adopting a green diet is the only way forward - if we want to create a sustainable and healthy world. While governments and policy making bodies have their own interventions, on an individual level, we can start with something as simple as what we put on our plate. To protect our own health, and the health of the environment, we need to make the transition to a largely plant-based diet - if not entirely.