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Can Eating Vegetables Enrich Your Life AND Save the Earth?

24 June 2024

The record heat and crazy storms we've been having are potent reminders that climate change is upon us. Does it seem like all the recommendations of "things you can do to save the planet" involve sacrifice, restriction or some other disruption of our normal lives? Buy less, drive less, raise your thermostat [in summer], avoid single-use plastic, reduce your lawn, give up hamburgers…

I think there's an individualistic argument to be made for switching out lawn for pollinator-friendly native plants; while requiring a shift in expectations, it makes our yards more beautiful.  But my expertise is in planet-friendly eating. And I can assure you that taking climate action with your fork comes from a place NOT of austerity, but of abundance! A plant forward diet makes your life richer, both in the nature of the food and the results for your personal health. Let me explain.

Plants make food more interesting. When we choose a meat-centric diet, we are limiting our plate to just a few beige/brown items (anyone who has planned an institutional menu knows that chicken, beef and pork get pretty repetitive). There are over 1,000 different vegetables, and at least twice as many fruits. This does not even include the varieties - for example, there are over 7,000 different types of apple! Did you know there are 20K species of beans and lentils? Plant foods add color, texture, variety and unique flavors to your meals (and, of course, fiber and valuable micronutrients).

Eating with purpose increases enjoyment. Knowing where your food comes from and how it's produced (admittedly, not always possible) enables you to appreciate the full story of it. Savoring food - especially whole plant foods - can enhance the pleasure you get from it and help the body tune in to consuming the appropriate amount. Being mindful about your food choices means space to appreciate every bite. And noticing the way foods make you feel after you eat them just may cause you to rethink which foods bring the most pleasure.

Consuming a predominance of whole plant foods can save you money. Legumes like beans and lentils - which are so Earth-friendly that they are often used as a cover crop - cost about $1 a can (33¢/serving) where I live, and even less if you cook dried beans yourself. Tofu, one of the most versatile plant-powered proteins I know (after chickpeas!), is only $2-3 per packet. If you're buying meat for less than that, I'd be suspicious of the sources! Vegetable and fruit prices have certainly gone up in the past few years, but they're still a tremendous nutritional bargain (utilize frozen and canned to reign in costs and limit waste).

Limiting food waste means prosperity, not deprivation. We can agree that wasted food helps no one (and directly harms someone if that wasted food is of animal origin). But limiting food waste also enriches your life in many ways: fewer trips to the supermarket (saves time), finding exactly what you need in your fridge/freezer/pantry (no clutter), less smelly garbage, enhancing creativity (in using foods different ways) and promoting planning (keeping our mind clear for other things).

Healthy people have more fun. A whole foods plant based diet (alongside physical activity and other lifestyle factors) is the only eating pattern that has been scientifically proven to reverse heart disease and early Alzheimer's Disease. Anti-inflammatory plant foods help prevent diabetes and cancer. IMHO, not one of these chronic diseases would make life better. So…eating more plants means expansion, not contraction, when it comes to the quality of your life.

Moving toward a plant based diet is a powerful way to take climate action AND enrich one's own life. I love the happy accident (LOL, I think nature has a plan) that what's good for the land is also good for our bodies and souls! I would never ask you to give up hamburgers or chicken cutlets (if that's your thing), but I hope I can inspire you to give plant based eating a foot in the door, one green bite at a time.

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