Eating your way to a greener future

Posted on 14 February 2024
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A picture of Aldi, Tesco, Sainsbury's, M&S and Asda vegan products placed together on a table. Image by Laura Nightingale

Eating Your Way to a Greener Future

If you value your well-being, care about the planet, and wish to contribute to positive change, this article is for you. Change can be challenging, and I understand the comfort that comes with familiar habits. I aim to show you how small, manageable steps can lead to significant positive impacts over time. I will outline the benefits of adopting a more plant-based or plant-forward lifestyle, framing the discussion around five key environmental concerns: deforestation, biodiversity loss, soil degradation, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. I aim to illustrate how individual choices can collectively contribute to a healthier planet by addressing these issues. While change can be daunting, especially regarding dietary habits, I encourage you to start small and gradually incorporate plant-based options into your meals. By taking incremental steps, you make the transition more manageable and increase the likelihood of long-term success.

Over the past three years, there has been a notable rise in the adoption of plant-based diets, particularly in nations like the UK, Denmark, and the USA. Individuals opt for these dietary choices for various reasons, encompassing concerns for health, animal welfare, environmental conservation, cultural factors, or personal taste preferences. However, the surge in these diets is not uniform across all regions, with certain countries experiencing a decline in vegetarianism. Spain and Brazil, for instance, witnessed a reduction of over 2% in vegetarianism rates between 2021 and 2022, primarily influenced by cultural norms favouring meat consumption. Shifting the focus to veganism, a remarkable increase was observed in 2019, with an astounding 600,000 Brits adopting a vegan lifestyle, constituting 1.16% of the population. However, you don’t need to ‘go vegan’ to reap the green benefits of a dietary shift. Many people are opting for a reducetarian lifestyle that delivers many of the same benefits.

What is propelling this shift? 

Mintel’s examination of more than 1,000 British individuals revealed that those who abstain from meat cited various reasons for their dietary choices. The primary motivations included a commitment to animal rights (54%), environmental concerns (32%), and a focus on personal health (31%). It's evident that cutting down on our intake of animal-derived products contributes to the sustainability of livestocks, and there is widespread acknowledgment that decreasing the consumption of red meats can lower cholesterol levels, as highlighted on the NHS website.

The crucial question remains: Why should we consider adopting a plant forward lifestyle for the sake of our planet?


Deforestation occurs as a consequence of an increased number of animals raised for meat production, necessitating more land for their habitats and food production. Cattle ranching is a primary contributor, causing 80% of deforestation in the Amazon rainforests. This activity alone releases 340 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere annually. Adopting a plant-based diet reduces the demand for meat, subsequently lowering the need for additional land.


The removal of wild land for animals and their feed results in the destruction or disturbance of various plant and animal species without suitable alternatives. Meat consumption leads to a 60% reduction in biodiversity, impacting the balance of ecosystems and contributing to climate change. Shifting to plant-based diets promotes increased biodiversity.


Soil degradation occurs as a result of carbon losses from excessive fertiliser and chemical use, ploughing, forest clearing, and peatland disturbance, leading to the release of high levels of CO2. Given the crucial role of soils in ecosystems, where they can store four times more carbon than other plant life, it is imperative to preserve our soils to ensure future food production. Choosing plant-based options helps preserve soils, vital for future food production.


The animal agriculture industry uses a substantial amount of water, spanning from the rearing of animals to the slaughter process. Research indicates that the production of 1kg of wheat requires between 500-4,000 litres of water, dependent on factors such as climate, growing season, and agricultural processes. In contrast, the production of 1kg of meat, particularly beef and lamb, demands significantly higher volumes, ranging from 5,000-20,000 litres. While crop products generally have a lower water footprint than animal products, the consideration shifts when assessing protein intake, an essential dietary component. According to the Water Footprint Network, per gram of protein, milk, eggs, and chicken meat necessitate 1.5 times more water compared to pulses, and beef requires six times more water. Shifting to a plant-based diet conserves water and helps maintain environmental balance.


Studies indicate that 57% of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production originate from animal-based foods. Emissions are also elevated due to farmland management and land-use alterations, with beef emerging as the leading contributor (25%) among animal-based foods and rice taking the lead among plant-based foods (12%). Choosing plant-based options significantly lowers your carbon footprint.

How does adopting a plant forward lifestyle benefit the planet?

Shifting towards a predominantly plant-based diet offers numerous advantages, such as optimising land use by eliminating the need for animal feed production. This allows for more effective land utilisation, enhancing food security and facilitating crop rotations to restore and preserve soil health, preventing further degradation. Cultivating crops promotes increased biodiversity compared to animal agriculture, benefiting both wildlife and soil diversity, with the encouragement of crop diversity further enhancing these positive effects. Embracing a plant-based diet conserves substantial amounts of water, reducing the strain on water resources and maintaining the health of our environment by diverting less water from rivers, among other sources. Additionally, opting for a plant-based diet results in significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to a meat-based diet, while a vegetarian and vegan diets contribute even less to pollution.

Advantages of a plant forward diet:

In addition to substantially lowering your personal carbon footprint and independently contributing to climate change mitigation, there are also additional perks that can enhance your well-being. These include improvements in your health, a heightened awareness of promoting ethical and sustainable lifestock farming, and a reduction in the presence of microplastics in your body, primarily stemming from the ingested waste of certain animals, predominantly those found in ocean fish.

Adapting your diet, especially if it has remained consistent throughout your life, can be a challenging task, and for some, it may be impractical due to health considerations. Those unfamiliar with cooking for a plant-forward, vegetarian or vegan diet and lacking knowledge about necessary nutrients may find the adjustment particularly daunting, especially when it comes to ensuring their bodies receive the essential elements. Consider starting with small changes, participating in initiatives like Veganuary, and exploring high-quality, sustainable meat options when you do choose to indulge.

At present, for those who include meat in their diet, ample evidence indicates that merely decreasing meat consumption, or specifically eliminating red meat, can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Indulging occasionally in pricier, high-quality meat sourced from local sustainable farms is not only a treat for yourself but also contributes to supporting the environment and fostering sustainability in agriculture. By embracing a plant-forward lifestyle, you not only contribute to a healthier planet but also enhance your overall well-being. Take small steps, make informed choices, and join the movement towards a more sustainable future.