The vision of a sustainable future depends upon individuals who feel responsible for the environment and health. One of the most effective ways to achieve the goals of nutrition ecology, including healthy and sustainable food choices, is a vegetarian lifestyle.
Nutritional ecology which includes sustainable nutrition is a question of personal priorities. Interested and well-informed consumers will be able to weigh the arguments and make he necessary decisions.
~ Claus Leitzmann, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003
We can no longer sit by passively and put where our food comes from conveniently an arm’s length away. We can no longer passively sit on our laurels and pretend that what we buy and consume doesn’t have direct impact on the world around us AND our health.
It’s not useful to talk about sustainable agriculture practices in a vacuum and hope that the complex system that is agriculture today magically changes course and fulfills current global needs without diminishing the possibility of future generations to meet their own needs.
The fact is, how we produce and consume food has the largest impact on human well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy in North America, food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change, economic inequality, and the federal budged.
There are many challenges to improving the complex food system in the 21st century. Systematic changes and approaches that consider social, economic, ecological, and evolutionary factors must be addressed.
A holistic approach to dealing with food insecurity, poverty and climate change and the global challenges in the field of nutrition is necessary. Holistic thinking has the potential to reduce the global challenges in the field of nutrition and sustainable eating behavior and includes the following (1):
- preference for plant-based foods
- organic foods (large organic agricultural practices are just as detrimental to the ecosystem as conventional agricultural practices)
- regional & seasonal products (on average, produce travels 1500 miles to get to a grocery store)
- preference for minimally processed foods
- Fair trade products
- resource-saving household practices
- enjoyable eating culture (e.g., regionalism is prominent, smaller portion sizes, no eating at the desk, etc.)
As consumers, we are an integral and powerful part of the food system. Switching to a plant-based diet, also known as ‘sustainable diet’ or sustainable nutrition’, may be the most crucial act of environmental, economic, political and health activism we can do. Because systematic change is complex and often difficult, a sustainable diet is just as important, if not more, than a sustainable agricultural system.
A sustainable diet is something that we have 100 percent control over – personal responsibility and individual behavior directly impact the larger system from the ground up.
Top 12 reasons to switch to a plant-based diet and sustainable eating behavior:
- Land requirements for meat-protein production are 10 times greater than for plant-protein production. About 40 percent of the world’s grain harvest is fed to animals half of this grain would be more than enough to feed all hungry people of our planet (1).
- Animal manure, which is produced in huge amounts by industrial agriculture, causes high levels of potentially carcinogenic nitrates in drinking water and vegetables (1).
- Animal production requires considerable energy and water resources and lead to deforestation, overgrazing, and over fishing (1).
- The positive ecologic effects achieved by eating more plants can be enhanced by avoiding processed and packaged foods and by choosing seasonally available and locally produced organic foods. In this way, more support is given to subsistence and family farming, the securing of employment, and global food security (1).
- The caging of animals as well as their transportation over long distances and finally slaughtering them can be avoided (1).
- Sustainable nutrition addresses fair distribution of food through ecologic and preventive eating behavior (1).
- Decreasing heavy reliance on non renewable resources (we cannot have infinite growth in a finite ecosystem) (1).
- Decreasing fossil fuel emissions from farm equipment and long haul transportation
- Encouraging re-generative soil practices (make compost and re-generate soil)
- Reducing health risks to farm owners caused by pesticide use (1).
- Biodiversity conservation. The one agreed upon food guideline is eating a variety of foods, particularly plant-based foods, reducing meat consumption and monoculture (single crop or animal) farming is to buy or grow a variety of plant-based foods (1).
- Demand for meat-based protein and agricultural expansion impact tropical nature which further impacts climate, environment, and biodiversity (1).
(1) Resource: Karl von Koerber , Nadine Bader and Claus Leitzmann (2016). Wholesome Nutrition: an example for a sustainable diet. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. Cambridge University Press.