Saving the Planet: One Bite at a Time

Divergence of viewpoint is a fact of life, and yet sometimes there is more substance to one line of argument than another. Just stepping

outside our front doors, we can no longer be oblivious to the very real fact of climate change – the distorted seasonal cycle, the intensified weather patterns

to the point of infernal-seeming fires and home- destroying floods. This reality can also be gleaned from television and the online world: the state of the Earth is all around us, tangibly and digitally. We have driven ourselves to this point (quite literally), we have polluted the skies both from terra firma and in flight, bulldozed the forests and destroyed innumerable species’ habitats, and – as a recent Kate Winslet- narrated film stated in no holds barred manner – we are still Eating Our Way to Extinction.

Directed by Otto Brockway, the film also features Sir Richard Branson, Dr Sylvia Earle, and Tony Robbins in its presentation of the very real facts about the planet-destroying effects of animal agriculture. From global deforestation to water pollution and oceanic dead zones, from soil degradation to contributing

14.5% to humanity’s total annual GHGs (according to the United Nations) – meat consumption is a serious problem for now, and for the future. And that is why Veganuary has become a mainstay of the first month of the year each and every year since its inception in 2013

by husband-and-wife duo Matthew Glover and Jane Land.

From only 3,000 pledges just under a decade ago, the pandemic with all its valid zoonotic transmission concerns saw January 2020 garner over one million participants (and thereby save more than 41,200 tonnes of GHGs and a million – yes – one million animals in that singular month). As for 2021, Veganuary reported back in September that 82% of participants had stayed (at least 50%) on the plant-based wagon through half

a year. So, who knows what Veganuary 2022 will be like… Particularly given the explosion of vegan-certified products now adorning chilled, frozen, and long-life shelves throughout the country, and the plant-based ethic being spoken aloud not just in those street-closing protests of yore (not that they’re defunct, mind), but in print, on radio, on television, on social media, and even at the cinema.

When the WWF released its heartbreaking Living Planet Report, finding that agriculture in general was responsible

for 68% of wildlife population loss, the UN further noted that, of that land, 77% was specifically for livestock purposes. Eating Our Way to Extinction, though, informs the viewer that (according to a 2020 environmental report), if only 10% of animal agriculture

were replaced, it would equate to saving 2.7 billion trees in CO2 emissions – all numbers which cannot be ignored (and that’s certainly not an onerous reduction). Documentaries being cinematographic vehicles for promoting social change, Brockway wanted

to thus aesthetically transfer his passion (science) to his

audience and utilise that field to hopefully enact the necessary amendments humanity as a whole needs to make to its diet. And that change must take place right now, in the home.

Researchers at Oxford University (other than the now-famous Dr Joseph Poore, who features in Brockway’s

film) having found that an 80% reduction in meat and dairy consumption would keep the average global temperature increase below 1.5°C, Brockway wants people to open their eyes, ears, and minds and finally, consciously decide to make a change before it’s too late. Meatless Mondays are not enough and a meatless month is insufficient in itself, also. Not, however, promoting a blanket panacea of veganism, rather, the director sees flexitarianism

– in the sense of the Michael Pollan adage of “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – as the wisest path forward. After all, humankind has indeed been eating meat for thousands of years (whether it should have been or not, odontologically speaking), but not by any means on the scale and by the methods that it does today.

That’s thanks to the industrial revolution. So it is that, presently, there is very little that is natural about the food production process, save in small and conscientious pockets fighting for a return to traditional ways and slower, kinder methods. Certainly, one feature of Eating Our Way to Extinction is the experience of indigenous peoples, those who still adhere to the seasons, to the natural cycles of the Earth; those who have noticed a change in those planetary rhythms, to the point of an immediate danger to their existence.

In the West, the green economy is booming at the moment; surface environmentalism is having its moment. But plant-based hasn’t become the diet of all, despite the plethora of futuristic innovations taking place. Yet, there are signs we are heading in that direction. One German company, Creapure, is – um – creating vegan creatine, a natural component in animal products from which we derive energy. The creatine monohydrate being used as a fortifier in meat substitutes, we’ve certainly come a long way from calcium fortification of orange juice. On the subject of drinks, in fact, Vegconomist recently reported that one in three Britons is now opting for oat milk over the dairy stuff and

a taste for that oaty goodness has far surpassed that of almond milk, too. Indeed, in the 25- to 44-year-olds demographic, 44% have opted to go dairy-free. From being a market worth £74 million in 2019, oat milk’s value rose to £146

million in 2020, while the entire plant-based milk sector hit the £394 million mark in 2020 (almost

£100 million more than in 2019).

Prompted by health concerns (including rising obesity rates) as much as environmental ones, outside of the UK some logic can be seen in Amsterdam’s drive to urge half of its citizens to be fully plant-based by 2030, and 60% so by 2040.

Currently, the Dutch city’s population is 39% plant- based and, in addition to questions of sustainability and combatting climate change, the Netherlands wants to see a downward curve in overweight and obesity figures imminently. In 2018, for example, one in eight children was classed as overweight, while 50% of adults were.

Health, however, is not simply about what the scales say: three new urological studies have found that a plant-based diet results in lower levels of PSA (a prostate cancer marker) in men, than in those eating a high proportion of meat in their diet. Happily, we here in the UK are eating significantly less meat, according to BBC News, daily consumption having fallen by 17% in the past ten years. It’s not quite enough to be meaningful in the grand environmental-salvation

scheme of things, but nor is it too far off the National Food Strategy’s goal of a 30% reduction in meat eating

by 2030. According to Christina Stewart, lead Oxford University researcher of a recent study of the dietary habits of over 15,000 people nationwide that was published

in Lancet Planetary Health, the problem is that while less red and processed meat is being consumed

  • approximately 17g per day; a wonderful way to avoid developing cardiovascular problems, Type-II diabetes, and certain types of cancer
  • more “white” meat is being eaten instead. Again, vegetarianism is not being promoted, but reductarianism. Also, there is the caveat, as Just Natural Health & Beauty has reported on previously, of not all meats – whatever type – being created equal: the factory farm confined piglet bears no resemblance to the free-ranging heritage breed who wouldn’t know

a metal bar of a compact pen to look at one.

However, dietarily, things are not as clear-cut as is often thought.

Whereas those vegans who not only passionately decry animal foods on ethical grounds, but also claim the fully plant-based way is the only way for heart health and avoiding certain cancers, in fact both plant and animal foods naturally contain both unsaturated and saturated (the heart attack causer) fats. According to Dr Georgina Ede in Psychology Today, some plant foods are actually higher in saturated fats than animal sources (one only has to look at coconut oil, made of some 90% of the stuff; that’s over twice the saturated fat of beef tallow). Additionally, pork – that sadly news-worthy meat at the end of last year when a mass cull of pigs was deemed necessary due to a Brexit- caused lack of trained butchers in this country – is replete with the MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acid) oleic acid, the same fat that we laude in olive oil.

According to a 2016 study, pursuing “self- actualization” (realising one’s singular life matters and one’s actions alone can make a difference) is far more rewarding than a narcissistic path. That’s

why we feel so light-footed and joyful when we buy that Fairtrade chocolate (nothing to do with serotonin release from the sweet taste of

the cocoa at all, nope); that’s also why plant- based living is becoming more and more popular in these environmentally challenging times (plus, carbohydrate-rich diets have been found to spark

more joy than ketogenic…). Essentially, despite urbanites’ protestations

to the contrary perhaps, humans are biophilic animals: we are connected to the planet, to each other, and Nature as a habitat is where we have come from and wherein we return to in order to rediscover calm and a sense of “coming home”, switching off from technology and enjoying being in the present, no noise or air pollution. It is this innate biophilia, also,

that lends hope to acting on climate change and finding a solution now, before it’s too late. And it is vital that we instil this lesson in our children.

Lofty ambitions, perhaps. What about inspiration, though? A lot of us don’t often have the impetus to get going on these changes in lifestyle. To this end, it can be helpful for some of us to know our favourite actor, sportsperson, or other famous personality or Instagram influencer has made the decision to go vegan or largely plant- based themselves and – importantly – is thriving.

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