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Climate Crossroads: Human and planetary health are interconnected

"...your food choices inherently affect both." ~ Karina Inkster

One of the most powerful ways you can affect your health is deciding what to put on your plate. It’s also one of the most substantial actions you can take to support – or destroy – our environment.

Human and planetary health are interconnected, and your food choices inherently affect both.

I’m speaking to readers who have the means to make decisions about their own nutrition. Food insecurity should be included in discussions about what’s on our plates, but is beyond the scope of my focus here: food choices by individuals who are able to make them.

Animal agriculture is one of the most environmentally destructive forces on our planet, and one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Animal agriculture is responsible for massive biodiversity losses, 80 per cent of annual world deforestation, and one of the top 10 sources of pollution in the world (animal waste).

Animal agriculture contributes at least 14.5 per cent of all human-caused greenhouse gases (similar to all forms of transportation combined, at 14.2 per cent), and worldwide greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods.

It takes about 10 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat, and almost 1,000 litres of water to produce one litre of cow’s milk.

Moving away from animal products is one of the most effective things you can do to support our environment. The International Panel on Climate Change recognizes consuming plant-based diets as a key mitigation strategy for climate change.

Eating in a way that supports our planet also supports your health. Vegan diets are associated with higher micronutrient and fibre intakes, and a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and many types of cancer.

Focusing on filling your plate with whole, plant-based ingredients doesn’t just decrease your risk of chronic disease – it also decreases your grocery bill. In an informal study my fitness and nutrition coaching team conducted, vegans spent an average of 22 per cent less than omnivores on grocery bills.

Load up on bulk pantry staples such as dried legumes, oats, rice, and pasta, and fill things out with fresh and/or frozen vegetables and fruit, nuts, seeds and protein-rich items like tofu and tempeh. Seitan has been used as a meat substitute for hundreds of years in East Asia. It’s easy (and economical) to make your own, and it’s higher in protein than most animal meats.

If you’re new to plant-based eating, start gradually. Start by “veganizing” your breakfasts. Try toast with nut butter, oatmeal with fruit and non-dairy milk, or an English muffin with a plant-based sausage patty. Over several weeks or months, move to lunches, then snacks, then dinners.

Fill your plate with as many plant-based foods as you can. Try new-to-you ingredients, and focus on variety. For human and planetary health, a plant-based diet isn’t just recommended – it’s necessary.

Karina Inkster, a guest writer for qathet Climate Alliance, is a fitness and nutrition coach, author of five books, and host of the No-B.S. Vegan podcast.