After watching COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret, What the Health and Food Choices on Netflix recently, I realised that it was about time that my husband and I made some changes to our daily eating habits.
Animal agriculture and our demand for and reliance on animal products is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, fisheries depletion, ocean “dead zones,” and virtually every other environmental ill (www.cowspiracy.com).
Here are some of the facts and figures from Cowspiracy that really hit home for me:
GREENHOUSE GASES AND CLIMATE CHANGE
- 51 % of the global greenhouse gas emissions are as a result of livestock and their by-products, compared to 13 % resulting from the transportation industry.
- Livestock is responsible for 65 % of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide.
- US methane emissions from livestock and natural gas are nearly equal.
- Agriculture is responsible for 80 – 90 % of US water consumption, 55 % of which is for animal agriculture.
- Animal agriculture is responsible for 20 – 33 % of all fresh water consumption in the world today.
- Livestock covers 45 % of the earth’s total land area.
- 1/3 of the planet is desertified, with livestock as the leading driver of this.
- Livestock operations on land have created more than 500 nitrogen flooded deadzones in our oceans.
- Every minute, 3.2 million kg of excrement are produced by animals raised for food in the US.
- A farm with 2 500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411 000 people.
- 3/4 of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted and we could see fishless oceans by 2048.
- 90 – 100 million tons of fish and as many as 2.7 trillion animals are pulled from the ocean each year.
- Up to 40 % of fish caught globally are discarded and for every 1 kg of fish caught, as much as 5 kg of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill.
- As many as 650 000 whales, dolphins and seals are killed every year by fishing vessels.
- Livestock and feedcrops are the leading causes of rainforest destruction and animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91 % of Amazon rainforest destruction.
- 1 – 2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second.
- 5 million Ha of rainforest has been cleared for palm oil production (used extensively in both the food and beauty industry) and 55.0 million Ha for animal agriculture.
- 80 % of antibiotics sold in the US are used for livestock.
- 70 billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide. More than 6 million animals are killed for food every hour.
- Globally humans drink 19.7 billion L of water and eat 9.5 billion kg of food each day.
- Cows drink 170 billion L of water and eat 61 billion kg of food each day.
- Land required to feed 1 person for 1 year:
- Vegan: 674 m2 (A rugby field is about 8400 m2)
- Vegetarian: 3 x as much as a vegan
- Meat Eater: 18 x as much as a vegan
- We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people.
- Worldwide, at least 50 % of grain is fed to livestock.
These documentaries are an eye opener and have given me the motivation and shove up the backside that I needed to at least try and give up animal products. I then thought, why not make the transition into a 2-week challenge, baby steps, which seemed less daunting and more like a game with a clear short-term goal. I decided if it all went well, we would hopefully be able to make the desired diet changes permanent.
My husband is a BIG meat and cheese eater; he even puts cheese on fish and chips, so I was really impressed when he agreed to join me on this journey. For him, the motivation is mainly for the potential health benefits. For me the obvious motivation is all the environmental reasons listed above.
Don’t get me wrong though, this is certainly not an easy decision and the thought of following a vegan diet is extremely daunting and requires a complete mindset change. Why is it that when we are not eating meat or dairy products we think we are going to starve and become nutrient deficient?
According to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau founder of the 30 day Vegan Challenge (you can sign up for free at www.the30dayveganchallenge.com), the funny thing about habits is that we tend to be unaware of them until we actually stop participating in them. Only when you stop consuming animal products do you become fully aware of how many things you automatically reach for contain meat, dairy, or eggs. Only when you’re aware of your habits do you recognise how ingrained they are.
So, armed with my Plant Based Cookbook by Trish Sebben-Krupka, having signed up for The 30 day Vegan Challenge and after doing some online research I prepped a basic meal plan including lots of snacks. I then hit the grocery store to stock up. Vegan must haves include grains, beans, nutritional yeast, nuts and obviously a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. You can buy many different dairy-free milk substitutes from the shops, however after reading the ingredients in some of them I wasn’t too convinced that they were the healthiest choice so I opted to rather make my own nut milk. It is a simple and quick process, and the almond milk I made actually tastes pretty good.
We have now completed the two week vegan challenge and some of the meals/ snacks we’ve made have included creamy corn chowder, rolled oats soaked in almond milk with fruit and honey, pea protein fruit smoothie, a medley of roast veggies on a mixture of couscous and quinoa, salad using the left overs, cauliflower alfredo pasta, leek and potato soup, hummus and olive tapenade sandwiches, strawberry muffins and dark chocolate and nut butter rice balls.
The first week was not easy for my husband; he suffered from heart burn and said he felt hungry most of the time. I found the first week a lot better than I expected, however the meal preparation required is quite time consuming. Week 2 was easier once we were into the swing of things. I did find that travelling and eating out is difficult, vegetarian options are available but there are very limited vegan options.
This has been a great learning experience so far and we are inspired to continue, knowing that we can make a difference to our health and the planet, just by eating fewer animal products. Our goal is to follow a plant based diet to best support our microbiomes (Previous blog), with some animal products as “condiments” every now and then. Life is short and sometimes you do just need a scrumptious slice of milk tart or a bacon avo pizza!