Welcome to 2023! As we look forward to a new year of ways to impact our health and that of the planet, you might want to turn your January into Veganuary! For the last nine years, this one-month commitment to a plant-based diet has taken off across the world and has allowed many who are vegan-curious to explore a different approach to eating. For many, going vegan for a full month is too much, but that’s fine….as with life, we don’t have to be all-or-nothing!
In 2015, The Rockerfeller Foundation – Lancet Commission’s Report on Planetary Health entitled, “Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch” described the following sobering reality, “We have been mortgaging the health of future generations to realise economic and development gains in the present. By unsustainably exploiting nature’s resources, human civilisation has flourished but now risks substantial health effects from the degradation of nature’s life support systems in the future. Health effects from changes to the environment including climatic change, ocean acidification, land degradation, water scarcity, over-exploitation of fisheries, and biodiversity loss pose serious challenges to the global health gains of the past several decades and are likely to become increasingly dominant during the second half of this century and beyond.”
The paper is wide reaching in its review of impact on planetary health. Among other issues it calls attention to our food systems, the increasing global consumption of animal products, and the benefits of switching to plant-based foods: “Animal products have much higher greenhouse gas emissions per gram of protein than legumes. For example, beef and lamb have emissions per g of protein that are about 250 times those of legumes.”
Greenhouse gas emissions, including methane and nitrous oxide, are critical – but also land use, water use, and biodiversity. In addition, the mass scale of antibiotics added to animal feed in attempt of preventing infections and maximizing profits through concentrated animal feeding operations increases risk of antibiotic resistance with subsequent impacts on public health.
The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health asks, “Can we feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries?” and calls for dramatic reductions in consumption of animal proteins. In 2019 the Canada Food Guide removed dairy as an essential food group, and highlights plant-based proteins over animals for both health and environmental reasons.
The United Nations and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change continue to call attention to the fact that rapid change in course of our food systems, is vital if we want to prevent further harm to all that inhabit this planet.
So, with all that in mind – be vegan-curious this month, maybe even this year. Cutting down animal protein exposure will be beneficial for your health and that of the planet, win-win!
For more information on the human health benefits of a balanced plant-based diet, read Hemler and Hu’s excellent 2019 summary paper, Plant-Based Diets for Personal, Population, and Planetary Health at https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/10/Supplement_4/S275/5624061?login=false
Whitmee S, Haines A. et al. Lancet 2015; 386: 1973–2028