Plants are the new Protein : Shifting the Centre of Plate to Shift the Carbon Footprint

For decades, the North American meal has revolved around meat and that’s how most menus are created…Beef on Wednesday, Chicken on Thursday, Fish on Friday. Bacon at breakfast, ham at lunch, roast beef for dinner—you get the idea. This focus has left us with problems on many levels—for one, a health crisis with obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes running rampant in our population. And secondly, an environmental crisis, with carbon emissions accelerating climate change and droughts causing extreme water shortages.

Raising livestock for meat uses huge amounts of water. An estimated 1800-2500 gallons of water is needed to produce a single pound of beef (or 29 gallons per gram of protein). Compared to legumes or pulses which require about 5 gallons per gram of protein, beef is clearly costing us a lot of precious water. Nuts do need to be mentioned with all of the California almond news stories lately—they are close to beef in their water usage. But other nuts, like walnuts, hazelnuts and pistachios are significantly less. But we also need to consider carbon emissions—almonds still don’t produce methane like cows do!

In fact, the UN estimates that the meat industry is responsible for one fifth of the world’s man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Research has shown that forgoing red meat just one day per week is equivalent to reducing driving by 1800 kilometres a year! So if you can’t prioritize that hybrid car or find a carpool, simply swap your protein to plants more often.

There are many forms this can take that don’t necessarily involve going completely vegetarian or vegan. The flexitarian approach is one of semi-vegetarianism where you mostly consume plant proteins but have some meat on a special occasion or to allow some old favourites. Renowned food writer, Mark Bittman, coined the VB6 (Vegan Before 6pm) approach as a response to typical North American health conditions (heart disease, pre-diabetes) that he was developing. This allows him to still review the foie gras at a fine dining restaurant but keeps it all in balance as the rest of his day he follows a vegan diet.

For those new to plant proteins, simply joining the Meatless Monday movement, of forgoing meat only one day per week, will still make a big difference to your carbon footprint and health. And hopefully, once you develop a love of legumes, going meatless can happen more often. So at breakfast, if you’re getting protein from eggs, there is no need for the bacon or ham, which the United Nations now considers a carcinogen. Instead round out your meal with veggies—toss a handful of spinach into a scramble or top your toast with avocado. At lunch, instead of deli meat in a sandwich, try smoked tofu or hummus and lots of veggies. If you tend to go for a lunch time salad, add protein with a sprinkling of hemp hearts or sunflower seeds or some sprouted beans or chickpeas. At dinner, find a new centre to your plate with a stuffed squash perhaps or choose a vegetarian entrée, like a thai curry with tofu, a veggie burger or a bean burrito.

For more ideas on how to eat meatless or to hear about ways to eat vegetarian on campus, contact Melissa Baker.

 

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