photo source: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vegetarian-diet-plan

Nowadays, the news about the children being restricted to have only meat-free diets in a kindergarten in Sweden attracts my attention to vegetarianism. One of the teachers in the kindergarten claims that they are conducting a vegetarian experiment—providing children with only vegetables, milk and eggs in three meals a day. He believes that this practice is an important sustainable diet program in kindergarten, which can help decrease carbon dioxide emissions and save the earth. A lot of controversies arise from this practice, some people argue that this practice is impractical and it will be harmful to children’s health. Others hold that it sets a good example for promoting vegetarianism nationally and globally. However, I maintain that this practice is too radical to make a difference in the environment. The reason would be illustrated clearly in the following part. 

Sustainable diets and the related issues

It is not difficult to notice that an increasing number of people become vegetarians and vegans all over the world, and leading a plant-based lifestyle seems to have become a popular trend in recent years. In Germany, for instance, there are roughly 7.8 million vegetarians (around 10 percent of the population) and 1.3 million vegans (around 1.6 percent) in 2014. Besides, The number of vegans in America grew by 600% from nearly 4 million in 2014 to 19.6 million in 2017. This phenomenon is closely related to sustainable diets that have been promoted by the media and public in the last few years. However, what is the exact definition of sustainable diets

Sustainable diets are defined as those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations.(FAO 2010).

That’s to say, sustainable diets require a balance between environmental protection and human health. Many people choose to become vegetarians or vegans also in terms of environment and health. However, there are some scientific studies showing that a vegetarian diet that includes dairy will cause more carbon footprint than a diet that includes one portion of meat a day. As a result, the researchers suggest that it is necessary to decrease the intake of dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, increase the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, and eat meat once a day for protein and energy. This kind of diet is called “two thirds vegan” diet. Compared with the vegetarian diet, it is more environmentally friendly and more suitable for our dietary habits. After all, the history of human eating meat is up to 2.5 million years and meat accounts for 1/3 of the world’s main sources of protein. Meat also can provide people with required nutrients such as zinc, iron, and B-12. Here is an interesting example worth mentioning, because of the poor vitamin B-12 in vegetables, the German Nutrition Society once suggested against a vegan diet for pregnant and lactating women, infants, children, and adolescents in 2016. 

Change to our diets

Nevertheless, the great importance attached to rights for animals, environmental protection and a healthy lifestyle that are common today, has contributed to rapid growth in the number of vegetarians and vegans across the world. Indeed, Mounting research has found that eating red meat frequently will put people at the risk of some chronic diseases. Besides, The life cycle study has found that red meat represents approximately 150 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than chicken or fish. And beef contributes more carbon footprint than any other meat. The picture below clearly illustrates why the beef is far more destructive to the environment than other farm products.

The possible explanation is that cows are comparatively bigger and slower-growing than other animals we eat. They need to absorb more calories before they are sent to the market. In the period of growth, cows take up more activity space, consume more water and cause more fertilizer pollution than other farm animals. Therefore, beef is more harmful to the environment than any others. But beef is taken as one of the main sources of protein, how could we balance the healthy diet and environment protection? I think below is a great answer:

Literally the most impactful thing you can do right away is just cut your beef consumption in half, or treat it like lobster, says Raymo.

In fact, it is not necessary for us all to become vegetarians or vegans, but we could make little changes to our diets. When we choose to buy one product, we could consider more about its carbon footprint and then decide whether it is worth to buy. A small effort just like replacing beef with chicken or pork for one or two meals per week can make a big difference to the environment. This is practical for all ordinary people and should be given priority when it comes to sustainable diets.

In addition to that, just as I have mentioned before, research shows that a vegetarian diet that includes dairy will cause more carbon footprint than a diet that includes one portion of meat a day. We could try to supersede milk with plant-based milk such as rice, soy, coconut, oak and almond. Plant-based milk has multiple nutrients that have a protective effect against some diseases caused by cows’ milk, like various cancers and osteoporosis. It’s been proven that oak milk and soy milk can bring down cholesterol levels. Although the nutritional value of one product is influenced by many factors—raw material, ingredients, processing, packaging and transportation, in general, plant-based milk is considered to have a better nutritional value when compared to cow’s milk. Therefore, plant-based milk is better for the environment as it uses less natural resources than cows’ milk (see picture below). It is a win-win to choose plant-based milk because it’s beneficial to your health and environment!

Apart from reducing beef and milk consumption and replacing them with other farm products, I have some useful tips for sustainable diets sharing with you.

Buying foods locally

Buying food at local is an effective way to decrease greenhouse gas emissions as it can dramatically cut down the food miles — the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer. Food miles are one factor used when assessing the environmental impact of food. The less the food miles are, the less negative influence the food has on the environment. As a result, when our consumers choose to buy local foods more often, we help to lessen carbon dioxide emissions in another way. Conventional food distribution is often said to travel 1,500 miles from farm to plate, while locally produced food is defined as one that travels less than 400 miles from origin to consumption.Some scientists found that conventional food distribution was responsible for 5 to 17 times more CO2 than local and regionally produced food. As you can see, how matters the impacts of food miles on climate!

Eating more seasonal fruits and vegetables

Seasonal fruits and vegetables are better for health and the environment than anti-seasonal fruits and vegetables. That’s because seasonal fruits and vegetables have a high nutritional value when growing in a suitable natural environment. For instance, tomatoes are suitable for growing in high temperature, and they can’t be produced in winters without the help of technology. However, their vitamin C content is much higher in summer than in winter. Besides, those seasonal fruits and vegetables demand less human intervention like energy and infrastructure.

On the contrary, anti-seasonal fruits and vegetables rely heavily on the greenhouse. The plastic films, materials of a greenhouse, are one of the sources of plastic pollution on the earth. These non-biodegradable materials cannot decay or dissolve away by natural force and will pose a threat to the environment ultimately. Therefore, eating more fruits and vegetables that grow in the natural environment rather than grow in the greenhouse is both beneficial to our health and environment.

Summary

This blog reveals the trend of vegetarianism nowadays and gives an alternative way to live a healthy life and protect the environment. As shown below:

  • Reducing beef and milk consumption and substituting them with other farm products.
  • Eating locally produced food, according to what is available during seasonal changes.

To sum up, sustainable diets are achievable, but it is not necessary for all of us to become a vegetarian or vegan. If many people can make a subtle change to their diets, it will have a positive and great impact on the environment.