Currently, the number of people choosing a plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan diet is steadily increasing in our world. This is not a frivolous trend but a response to a catastrophic situation that we have created on Earth. The reasons behind these dietary shifts stem from the serious modern-day challenges that we are facing as humanity.
- First, at a time when our health should be better than ever thanks to medical, scientific, and technological advancements and the high quality of life possible, humanity is inundated with chronic physical illnesses and deteriorating mental and emotional health in epidemic proportions.
- Second, we have destroyed traditional farming practices of both plants and animals into chemical-laden and drug-loaded operations.
- Third, we have created factory farms that subject animals to unspeakable cruelty and torture and completely undermine their right to life by treating them as expendable commodities.
- Fourth, these unnatural industrial farming methods are polluting the air by releasing greenhouse gases and the water by releasing chemicals and animal wastes at unprecedented levels.
- Fifth, we have populations of people all over the world who are suffering from malnourishment and dying from starvation because of the unjust distribution of food resources. Food that should be going to humans first is instead going to feed animals, whose only purpose is to be slaughtered and served to meat-obsessed societies.
- Sixth, the destruction of ecosystems, deforestation, and wild animal endangerment and extinction is unfolding at record highs to make space for more animal agriculture and its associated requirements.
- Seventh, we are in the midst of a climate crisis that is destroying our health, our quality of life, and creating an increasingly severe strain on our food, medical, financial, and government systems.
If any of the above points are new for you, one of the best resources that educates people about the impacts of livestock on the environment is Cowspiracy. This film was released in 2014, and its popularity, value, and importance have since only continued to increase. It provides a sobering look at why our society functions as it does when it comes to protecting livestock farming and animal foods, especially when it comes to the organizations that claim to work for human health and environmental sustainability. It presents key findings and facts about the impacts of methane – the natural gas that all animals, including humans, produce and which next to carbon dioxide is a significant greenhouse gas. It talks about the negative impacts of animal farming, including the amount of fresh water, energy, land, and feed that is required and the amount of waste that is produced. It busts the myth that many people have about cars and factories being the biggest problem for climate change. The fact is that so much of the issues and environmental destruction come from our reliance on animal foods and modern-farming methods, which require many resources to bring the immense amounts of these foods to the market.
Ultimately, any of the above reasons alone should be enough to inspire change and put into action responsible eating habits, which take into account today’s modern challenges. When we put two or more of them together, the choice to change should be evident and swift. Yet too many people in our world are still stubbornly resistant to changing their diets, even after knowing all the facts. Unfortunately, the Ego identities of some human beings are stronger than others and react with denial, resentment, and defensive behavior whenever any change like this is mentioned. Many people on Earth still feel that it is their right to choose how they will conduct their lives, namely what they will eat and when. However, it is no longer a personal choice when something impacts the health and wellbeing of all people, animals, and ecosystems on Earth. This kind of thinking stems from fear and ignorance of not recognizing that we are all connected and no being lives in isolation. The question I always pose to my audiences whenever a choice is being considered is as follows: What would the world look like if everyone else made “this” choice too? Would it be a better or a worse world for all involved? This is not to trigger any guilt, which is a toxic emotion, but to make us more aware of the consequences of our actions. The more responsible we are with our choices, the more we benefit personally and collectively.
The Rising Prevalence of Meat-free Initiatives
On the bright side of this challenging topic, there are numerous individuals and organizations around the world today working to raise awareness about the value and importance of changing our diet by reducing our reliance on meat and animal products like eggs and dairy.
Since 2009, the Meat Free Monday campaign was launched by Paul, Mary, and Stella McCartney. This is a not-for-profit campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the detrimental environmental impact of animal agriculture and industrial fishing. It encourages people to help slow climate change, conserve precious natural resources, and improve their health by having at least one plant-based day each week. Many organizations and homes have adopted this approach to reducing their meat consumption, including New York City Jails.
Since 2014, every January, in the spirit of new year’s resolutions and making a fresh start, Veganuary is promoted by its non-profit organization. This campaign encourages people worldwide to try vegan eating for January and beyond, and provides them with all kinds of helpful resources throughout the year.
Elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools have started to implement plant-based meals and plant-based days. In California, for example, the California Senate Education Committee approved legislation in 2019 to create a program that would provide new state funding to reimburse K-12 public schools for the costs of expanding their plant-based food and beverage offerings. In Canada, the University of Winnipeg is launching an all-vegan menu at one of its campuses.
Aside from group initiatives, there is also an increasing number of educators, activists, and politicians promoting the importance and value of meat-free and plant-based eating. In the United States, presidential candidate and senator, Cory Booker follows a vegan diet and hopes to bring about positive change to more sustainable eating through changes to government policies. In Sweden, the remarkable and revolutionary Greta Thunberg, who is an outspoken internationally-renowned climate activist, follows a vegan lifestyle and encourages her audience to go vegan for climate change. There is also a slew of celebrities that follow vegan or vegetarian lifestyles and try to inspire their audience to take steps to reduce their reliance on meat and animal products. Some of the most outspoken include Alicia Silverstone, Natalie Portman, Christina Applegate, Ellen Degeneres, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Moby, and Joaquin Phoenix.
In August 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations released a report that urges people to eat less meat. More than 100 experts, around half of whom come from developing countries, worked to compile the report in recent months and describe plant-based diets as a significant opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change. While this report is timely and the new may seem novel for many, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has been working for years to educate the public about the benefits and importance of reducing meat consumption.
The Benefits of Reducing Animal Products
Aside from helping to decrease our burden on the environment and not contribute to animal cruelty, responsible eating means taking accountability for our health and wellbeing. While the field of dietetics is full of seemingly conflicting opinions and dietary choices, when we push aside all of the noise, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that the safest and best way for us to eat is plant-based. The more that we remove meat and animal products from our diet, the more benefits we gain in our weight, energy levels, and overall health. Our risk of chronic diseases declines significantly, and we can reverse and heal most conditions that have already set in. When it comes to meat specifically, Forks Over Knives has one of the best articles that outlines the 7 Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Meat. Almost instantly, you will feel lighter and experience better digestion and elimination. Weight loss soon follows, and one can maintain a steady and preferred weight more easily. Within a relatively short time, you start to decrease your cholesterol and risk factors for heart disease and reduce the stressful load on the liver and kidneys that is associated with meat and animal food consumption. Over time, you further reduce your chances of other diseases like cancer, especially colon cancer.
Part of responsible living means understanding that all actions have consequences and one of the most important actions on our health and wellbeing is how we feed our bodies. We can choose to be defensive and resistant to change, or we can choose to respect and love ourselves enough to put the most beneficial foods into our bodies. Today, we know that whether for environmental or health reasons, every step in the right direction makes a difference. Every bit of reduction in animal products benefits our health and the health of our environment. The more we can do, the more we compound and amplify those benefits. This is why I encourage you to say yes to yourself, if you haven’t already, and consider taking steps to improve your health, longevity, and quality of life.
Plant foods can provide us with everything we need, especially when they are whole plant foods. There is more than enough high-quality protein in plant foods. There is an abundance of healthy carbohydrates and healthy fats, as well as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that only plants can provide us. Of course, when we focus on eating a responsible diet, this does not just mean eating plant foods haphazardly for the sake of the environment or the animals, but about choosing a nutritionally-responsible diet as well. This means that we focus on whole plant foods, rather than refined, processed, or junk plant foods. This means that we pay attention to eating a necessary variety of plant food groups daily, namely fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, along with some nuts and seeds. This also means that we make a point of getting vitamin D the most natural way from the sun, and add in a vitamin B12 supplement to ensure proper levels beyond what some organic plant foods, mushrooms, and fortified plant foods can provide. For more help with nutritionally-responsible plant-based eating, take my online video course Eat Real Food: How to Eat a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet.
Ongoing Motivation and Concluding Thoughts
We have been given an incredible gift through this life experience. Sure, it isn’t always easy, and yes, there will be many challenges, but there is also so much to celebrate and be grateful for. In the end, we are all in this together, and the actions of every single person matter. You are influencing someone in your life every single time you interact with them, for better or for worse. Your words and actions matter. This is why taking a responsible approach to our life choices is so crucial as it sends positive effects throughout our world.
We have evolved our consciousness so much more today and continue to grow in awareness. We have more intelligence and information available to us than ever before. We can do better than how we’ve been doing thus far. Choosing a responsible diet ensures not only improvements for our own wellbeing, but it also shapes a better world for our future generations. And to think, all we are being asked to do is make some shifts in how we eat. You can still live where you do, work where you do, and entertain yourself as you please. However, during these times, when you choose to feed your body, may it be with foods that promote human, animal, and Earth wellbeing. Even our past human choices have driven illusions of separation between us, other living beings, and nature as a whole, we are coming back to recognize our interconnectivity yet again. We are not separate from nature, we are nature, and we, too, are animals who are dependent upon this Earth to be able to survive and thrive.
For further inspiration and motivation, I leave you with a TED talk video from Mark Bittman, who is a famous food author, journalist and television personality. The title of this talk is What’s Wrong With What We Eat?, and it is a 20-minute presentation that is a must-see for anyone who has ever considered their health, their impact on the Earth, the modern-day family, and how current government and economy work. Mark emphasizes the urgency for us to wake up and take back our health and our environment by making responsible food choices.