Squash the Beef: Plant-Based Diets and the Environment

At Guiding Stars, we often talk about how the foods we eat impact our health. But what about our diet’s impact on the environment? The science is clear that plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets laden with animal products, but is that connection understood and valued by consumers enough to eat less meat?

Black Bean and Quinoa Burger

Black Bean & Quinoa Burger

Two Guiding Stars iconTwo Guiding Stars indicate better nutritional value. These black bean burgers aren't trying to mimic beef. They're just delicious in their own right.

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In the latest Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council, about a quarter (27%) of consumers said that environmental sustainability impacts their purchase decisions. More influential factors include taste (86%), price (68%), healthfulness (62%) and convenience (57%).

Perhaps recognizing environmentally sustainable foods is the key barrier here. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of consumers say it is hard to know whether the food choices they make are environmentally sustainable and the same amount share that if it were easy to know it would have a greater influence on their choices.

Plant-based, while subject to interpretation, seems to be another term where consumers have high awareness. About three-quarters (73%) of people in the Food & Health Survey say they have heard of plant-based diets and about half (51%) are interested in learning more about them.

There’s clearly consumer interest and awareness around these topics, but still some confusion. People may be interested in moving toward a more plant-based diet but it’s unlikely they will want to give up meat altogether. I have a perfect solution for these folks and the environment: start by eating less red meat.

This was a key recommendation from the recent EAT-Lancet Commission’s report. They recommend a target of eating less than half an ounce of red meat per day which works out to about 3.5 ounces per week. Most Americans currently consume on average between an estimated 2 and 3 ounces per day.

Beef production requires a lot more land and creates many times more greenhouse gas emissions than plant protein sources like beans and lentils. Of course, not everyone is willing to swap from a beef burger to a bean or lentil burger overnight. Eating red meat less often and choosing less harmful proteins for the environment like poultry, fish, nuts, and eggs can make a huge impact.

So, if you’re not ready to participate in meatless Monday, try a beefless one instead.

Want to read more about this topic? You can hear from Kit here about the about the pros of plant-based eating in terms of nutrition. Alli explains here how to approach plant-based diets for people with sensitive nutrition needs.