The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization will celebrate World Food Day on Oct. 16, and the agency's theme this year is climate change. Although we may not wear blue helmets or conduct peacekeeping missions, there's an easy way we can each do our part to stop a global crisis: eating more plant-based meals. What's the connection? Producing meat in the massive quantities we currently do inflicts a lot of damage onto our environment. In fact, the FAO found that the livestock sector is a significant emitter of greenhouse gases.
One of the actions FAO suggests in tackling climate change is eating one plant-based meal a week. FAO's website states, "Try to eat an all-veggie meal (including pulses like lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas) instead of one meat meal a week. More natural resources are used to provide meat than plants or pulses, especially water. Millions of acres of rainforest are also slashed and burned in order to turn the land into grass pastures for livestock including cows."
While it may not be surprising to see other NGOs such as the Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace and Sierra Club agree with reducing our meat consumption for the sake of the environment, even hardnosed finance industry executives are starting to see the value of trying more plant-based foods. Recently, a group of 40 investors managing $1.25 trillion in assets launched a campaign to "encourage 16 global food companies to change the way they source protein for their products to help to reduce environmental and health risks."
The other good news is that simple choices we make every day can go a long way. Yes, we can think about how many miles a food traveled to reach your plate, as FAO recommends. But if we're serious about wanting to combat climate change, the most effective step we can take is simply to eat lower on the food chain. Conscious consumers follow the Three Rs of eating: "reducing" or "replacing" consumption of animal products and "refining" our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.
Countering climate change when eating out is as easy as opting for hearty meatless options like Chipotle's protein-packed bean burrito with guacamole. Many fast food chains like Denny's carry veggie burgers that regularly please even the most carnivorous consumer. And TIME reports that choosing vegetarian foods not only adds years to your life, but can also save you $750 a year.
Enjoying more plant-based meals not only has the power to help save the planet from a destructive trajectory, it also reduces the number of animals subjected to inhumane factory farm practices.
With millions of animals suffering on factory farms right now - for example, pigs who spend the majority of their lives in gestation crates, not even able to turn around - it's not surprising that demand for plant based meals is skyrocketing.
Appreciating the relationship between meat and climate change can help us make better choices. It's become increasingly clear that our food system can have a negative impact on our environment. The good news is that, inversely, our food system can pave the way to a truly more humane and sustainable future.