This recent United Nations Environment headline jumped out at me. The UN was referring to the fact that the livestock industry has a hefty negative impact on our environment. For this reason, they recognised the amazing efforts of the entrepreneurs behind the companies Impossible Foods and Beyond Beef because they’ve developed game-changing plant-based meats.

To give you an idea, compared to a U.S. produced beef burger, Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger requires:

  • 99% less water
  • 93% less land
  • 46% less energy
  • and generates 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions

Isn’t this remarkable? And another exciting part is that the Beyond Burger has a texture and taste that is beyond amazing. Case in point: it launched at 930+ A&W fast food restaurants across Canada in July this year and sold out coast to coast in a couple of weeks due to “immense popularity”. Beyond Meat is tripling its production footprint and adding 250 jobs as they prepare to sell their products world wide.

So we can see that plant-based meat is much more environmentally friendly than beef. But how big of an impact does the livestock sector have overall?

Livestock’s Impact on the Environment

The 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, states that “the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.” A report published by the same organisation in 2013 indicated that the livestock sector plays an important role in climate change. given that it accounts for 14.5% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. This is greater than emissions from all modes of transportation combined.

The Alternative: Plant-based Eating

The Union of Concerned Scientists published nearly a year ago an article supported by 15,000 scientists intitled, “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice”. It was a follow-up to a similar article written 25 years prior calling on us to curtail environmental destruction. In the 2017 version they concluded:

“To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.”

Among their 14 suggestions for more environmentally sustainable alternatives is a dietary shifts toward mostly plant-based foods. Indeed, the lead author of a recent large study out of the University of Oxford is quoted here as stating, “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.” And a report just released from the UN-supported Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizes the urgent need to slow climate change (noting the world’s poor are more likely to get hit hardest) and points out one way to limit global warming is by “changing food systems, such as diet changes away from land-intensive animal products.” Read the CBC News media coverage on the report here.

One of the Best Decisions I’ve Ever Made

So back to those burgers. With all the amazing veggie options, I definitely don’t miss beef burgers. And overall I find plant-based eating really delicious, especially when we take in cuisines from cultures that have a long history of plant-based eating (like East Indian and Mexican). There is a whole array of fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, grains, nuts, seeds and spices from which to choose. As this important movement grows, there are more and more amazing recipes to inspire home cooking, and eating out has become easier and easier. I consider my own transition to a plant-based diet one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. One of the reasons is the peace of mind I feel knowing that my food choices are leaving the lightest footprint possible on our precious planet.