How Plant-Based Menus Are Good for the Environment

With food production accounting for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging consumers to shift to lower-carbon-producing foods is critical. In addition, shifting consumers away from animal product-focused diets toward more efficient, resource-efficient foods such as fruit, vegetables, and legumes can help industries and nations meet urgent global climate goals.
Healthy plant-based diets low in sugar-sweetened products and refined grains require less cropland and fertilizer and are better for the environment1. In addition, red and processed meats have the worst environmental impact among all food groups, yielding the highest greenhouse gas emissions share and requiring the most cropland, fertilizer, and water2.
For example, vegetables require around 39 gallons of water, fruit 115, and grain 197 gallons to produce one pound of food; chicken requires 518 gallons, and beef 18473.
According to Forks Over Knives, meat and dairy occupy around 77% of pasture and arable land, producing just 18% of daily calories. In contrast, while human-use plant-based foods use 23% of arable land, the produce represents 82% of global daily calories4.
In addition, while beef and dairy from grass-fed cattle may be healthier and kinder, it is not necessarily more eco-friendly. Land and water use are the same, and grass-fed cattle produce more methane than grain-based animals – two to four times as much5.
Seafood, too, requires consideration, with the commercial fishing industry the single most significant contributor of ocean plastic and harmful discarded fishing net pollution6.
What Do These Statistics Mean for Consumers?
The environmental impact of food choices is glaring.
According to Gidon Eshel, a researcher focusing on climatology, geophysics, agricultural, and environmental efficiency, “When you choose between competing ingredients or meals, you’re making important choices that cascade through the global landscape7“.
So – yes – wholesome plant-based diets, including increased consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, vegetable oils, tea, and coffee, are kinder to animals and can contribute significantly to a lowered risk of various conditions and diseases. At the same time, as ongoing human health depends on a healthy planet, environment and climate drivers are equally vital in powering a shift in eating habits.
One way to promote this shift is through gently encouraging eco-friendly dish and food product messaging and labeling.
Embracing Environmentally Friendly Messaging on Menus and Labels
A recent World Resources Institute (WRI) survey among 6000 online participants found that thoughtfully and strategically framed environmental messages on eatery menus can help increase plant-rich diet consumer uptake.
Among these themes, the most effective were “join a movement of people choosing foods with less impact on the climate” and “small changes can make a big difference”. In addition, the research found that this type of messaging doubled the chance of a consumer selecting a plant-based menu item8.
Significantly the findings’ application need not be limited to restaurants. Other food businesses, including retail, can adopt the approach to increase lower-carbon food and beverage sales and encourage the consumption of more environment and climate-friendly products. For example, companies already embracing friendly eco-reminders include Sainsbury’s supermarkets in the UK.
So, incorporate environmental messaging on your menu, label, point of sale communication, website, or catalog today to help the consumer to eat greener.
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