When someone thinks about sustainability, the first things that come to mind may be buying local, switching to CFL or LED light bulbs, recycling, and the list goes on. But not a lot of people think about what they’re eating. One of the most effective ways to become more sustainable is to become plant-based. It’s more effective than any other kind of vegetarian diet, and is much less carbon intensive than a completely “local” omnivorous diet. According to National Geographic, “One of the easiest ways to slim your water footprint is to eat less meat and dairy.” I know that “going vegan” can sound intimidating, because having a plant-based diet means avoiding all animals products, like dairy, meat, fish, gelatin, honey, and others. But it isn’t as hard as it seems. Here are two easy steps to get you closer to a vegan diet.
Step one is to start eating whole foods and to familiarize yourself with ingredients in processed foods. Focus on learning new recipes and reading the ingredient lists on foods you usually buy. Start cooking at home as much as you can. There are vegan healthy recipes you can follow, or enjoy some more comfort food recipes (my personal favorite). Feeling more comfortable with making your own food will help you avoid animal products that can be hidden in processed foods. Do not worry about cutting out all animal products now; just start just making your own food as best you can. Buying processed foods is also okay: just read the labels and avoid certain ingredients if you want to ensure that you’re buying plant-based foods. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be perfect right away! Step one can take some time getting used to, and you don’t need to go cold turkey (pun intended)!
If you feel like you might not have time to prepare your own food every day, try food prepping. Make all of your food for the week on one day in about two or three hours. Make large batches and store them in the fridge or freezer. This simple practice makes eating at home a lot more efficient. If you have restrictions on what kinds of food you can access (you live in a dorm room, have limited access to grocery stores, etc.), do the best you can to select a wide variety of whole, plant-based foods. Cost may also seem to be an issue, but many substitutes for meat (beans, tofu, quinoa, etc.) are cheaper and a lot more sustainable. Change takes time.
For the second step, focus on switching some animal products to vegan substitutes. The easiest switch is probably from cow’s milk to a plant milk. Coconut milk is the most sustainable because it uses the least pesticides, least water, and produces the smallest amount of greenhouse gases out of a variety of other milks. There are also now vegan cheese, ice cream, and yogurt from a variety of companies that can be found in most large grocery stores. There are lot of different kinds of vegan “meats” and other “dairy” products like butter and cream cheese. All of these substitutes have smaller footprints than their counterparts because animal products take a lot more resources (energy, water, land) to produce.
A recent study shows that people are more motivated to change their diets to plant-based if it means that they will be helping, instead of hurting, people and the earth around them. Going plant-based, or even vegetarian or pescatarian, all help in terms of sustainability for the future. A plant-based diet cuts your carbon footprint in half. It also slows deforestation and overfishing. A vegan uses one tenth of the water in their diet than an omnivore does, mainly because all of the grains that are used to feed animals go straight to people. Going plant-based has so many benefits and is now easier than ever to do. There are so many substitutes and resources available, more than there ever were before. Going vegan is one of the most sustainable things someone can accomplish, so why not give it a shot?