It's Easy Eating Green
A Beginner’s Guide to a Plant-Based Diet
If you’ve been following any of my previous blogs, you already know I’ve been a lifelong environmentalist. From my stance on single-use straws and my drought-resistant landscape to my career at CalRecycle, I am a die-hard tree hugger!
One subject I have not touched on yet is the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. Although for me, it really had nothing to do with the environment (since there was little information about that back in the early '90s). It mostly had to do with my love of animals. If you read my straw blog, you’ll remember my dad taking me to fast food joints and refusing single-use plastic straws. It was in that same drive-through I learned that chicken nuggets came from chickens and burgers came from cows. Since then I have been conscious about the use of animal products, and the environmental advantages of not consuming meat were just a bonus.
Reducing animal husbandry for food production can decrease carbon emissions, reduce meat and seafood waste byproducts, and significantly lower global fresh water use. Plus, eating more fruit and veggies is beneficial for your health! Here’s a primer on different types of less-meat diets. It’s a good idea to speak to a doctor or nutritionist before making a drastic change.
As the name implies, flexitarians are flexible with the number of meat-free meals they choose to eat per week. It can be challenging to about-face your diet, so a flexitarian diet is a great way to slowly reduce your meat intake and replace it with plant-based proteins like legumes. When I became a vegetarian, it was a bit of an adjustment for my family members—the flexitarian diet allows you and your family to adjust without feeling like you’re being deprived of your favorite foods. It’s a great compromise for you and the planet.
I’d classify this as the intermediate diet—not too stringent, but not super-easy, either. This is where I’ve been for the past 23 years, and it works just fine for me. I eat mostly fruit, veggies, breads, dairy, and some meat substitutes like vegan “sausage” made from potatoes, apples, and spices. And because I live in California, it’s very easy to find multiple dishes at restaurants if I choose to eat out. If you are new to vegetarianism and are planning to eat at a new restaurant, always check the menu ahead of time to make sure you’re not caught off guard by a meat-filled menu. Additionally, if I ever get an order that includes meat by accident, I pick it off and give it to a friend or family member. There’s no use in sending it back or throwing it away—that’s just more waste!
Personally, I find this diet too strict, but if it works, more power to you! Vegans exclude all animal products from their life—that means no animal byproduct foods or animal products like leather. It’s been hailed as the most eco-friendly and natural diet because no animals are raised, slaughtered, or eaten. However, other vegan products could be considered harmful to the planet, such as pleather clothing and accessories made from petroleum-based materials. And often “fake” animal product fashion doesn’t last as long as real leather, creating more waste. It may be worth considering using animal products when the alternative would be more harmful to the planet. (We never said the eco-warrior life was easy!)
Not quite ready to give up your favorite burger joint? Ease into it with Meatless Mondays or find a method that works best for you. Protecting the environment is not a perfectly straight line—it’s a journey of finding what works for your lifestyle and the planet alike. As the saying goes, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” That works for other eco-friendly acts, too!