“Eat your veggies.” It’s been the catchcry of mums and dads across the years. These three words have been seared into our collective memories since childhood. Along with this parental guidance, numerous top-selling books, including top selling author Dr Alan Desmond’s The Plant-Based Diet Revolution, have been released to both popular, and scientific acclaim.
And for good reason–eating the vegetables served on your plate avoids wastefulness, improves your health and, according to a newly launched campaign called The Plant-Based Treaty, can make the world a better place for everyone.
What is a plant-based diet?
While a range of plant-focused diets exist, the common theme is the avoidance of meat or ingredients sourced from animals, and the use of plants, or ingredients made from plants as a subsitute. Nutritionist Sue Radd gives a great explanation of what plant-based diets are.
But is a plant-based diet really the answer to all of life’s problems?
Let’s take a look at some of the key arguments for eating your vegetables–and maybe, only your vegetables.
Reason 1: Plants are good for your health
After travelling the globe to discover the secret to long-life, National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner published a best-selling book that highlighted five so-called “blue zones”, where people enjoyed remarkably long and full lives.
The Seventh-day Adventist Community in Loma Linda, California, made the list, their vegetarian diet being a major contributor.
Buettner found the residents live “as much as a decade longer than the rest of us”, with other studies finding Adventists also have lower rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases.
Adventists’ vegetarian diet is based on their faith—often citing Genesis 1:29: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’”
But science continues to back up their choice. Nutrition Australia reports that plant-based eating is also associated with reduced body weight and type-2 diabetes when compared with diets that include meat. One of the reasons plant-based diets can result in better overall well-being is their positive influence on gut health–the production of healthy gut bacteria is supported because of higher levels of fibre and a greater diversity of plant foods consumed.
Longer and healthier lives? Faith–or no faith–there continues to be a clear scientific explanation that a health-promoting plant-based diet is a good choice for a better life.
Reason 2: The animals will thank you
For many who choose a plant-based diet, the decision comes down to animal ethics. Do all animals deserve the level of care we give to our pets at home?
Without a doubt, what we eat has a direct correlation with the quality and length of lives that the cows, chickens and other animals that contribute to our diets experience.
The reality is that animals are more intelligent and complex than many of us realise–and when we eat meat, we are choosing to kill them.
As part of his research into animal psychology, Dr Donald Broom, a professor at Cambridge University, discovered that cows enjoy mental challenges and get excited when they use their intellect to overcome an obstacle. When cows figure out a problem, he says, “The brainwaves showed their excitement; their heartbeat went up and some even jumped into the air.”
Clearly, they aren’t just “meat on legs”. Scientists also now know that pigs have the cognitive skills of three-year-old human children and chickens form complex friendships and social hierarchies, along with cultural knowledge that is passed between generations.
Sadly, as populations grow and the demand for meat products increases, more animals are spending their short lives in harsh conditions. Far from the romantic open-plains paddocks, factory farming sees animals crammed into small pens, fed unnatural diets and treated harshly, all in the name of quicker and cheaper meat production.
A shift to plant-based eating avoids this animal suffering.
Reason 3: It’s better for the environment
Launched in late 2021, alongside the COP26 climate meetings in Glasgow, the Plant-Based Treaty is a landmark international treaty that draws attention to the role that food systems have on critical ecosystems.
According to organisers, it’s the first time that what we eat has been placed at the centre of what some are calling a “climate crisis”. While a lot of attention has been placed on the impact fossil fuels have on the environment, modern food systems have just as an important part to play.
Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide–the three main greenhouse gases–are at record levels and rising. Animal agriculture contributes to all three and is the main driver of methane and nitrous oxide emissions globally.
A shift to plant-based food systems would see far fewer cows and other livestock emitting methane. This in turn would dramatically reduce the CO2 being released into the atmosphere by permitting reforestation of land currently being used for grazing and raising feed crops.
The Plant-Based Treaty proposes three clear steps that governments can take to improve the global environment through plant-based food systems:
1. No longer allow the change of land use, including deforestation, for animal agriculture.
2. Promote plant-based foods and actively transition away from animal-based food systems.
3. Reverse the damage caused by animal agriculture by restoring key ecosystems and reforesting the earth.
The campaign is not only backed by high-powered celebrities including Paul, Mara and Stella McCartney, but faith leaders from across the globe. A letter signed by these leaders and presented to COP president Alok Sharma reads, “we are doing this because our world, the world that God initially was able to call ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31), is now threatened as never before.”
No matter where you stand on climate change science, The Plant-Based Treaty presents a compelling case for doing more to reduce the impact of our food production on the planet.
So, can we eat our way to a better world?
If choosing a plant-based diet means a healthier mind and body, a happier life for the animals around us and environmental conditions closer to those that God created in the beginning, the answer would appear to be a resounding “yes, you can”.
If you haven’t yet made the jump to a plant-based diet, or want to do more for your own health or the health of others, here’s a few ideas to help you on your journey:
- Order a vegetarian or vegan option next time you eat out (or get takeaway).
- Visit plantbasedtreaty.org to learn more and help call for change.
- Replace meat in your meals with a tasty plant-based substitute.
- Ask a vegan or vegetarian friend for their favourite recipes.
There’s a running joke about vegans (but you could substitute the word with vegetarians or any other plant-based eaters) that goes:
Q: How do you know if someone is a vegan?
A: Don’t worry, they’ll tell you within two minutes of meeting them.
As always, there’s a bit of truth in the jest. But when you can improve your health and make the world a better place, then what we eat and the way we produce as part of a plant-based diet revolution is worth talking about, don’t you think?
Ready to try a plant-based diet? Find out more about going healthy for your own good and the good of the planet by completing a free Living Well course online.
Braden Blyde is a freelance writer based in Adelaide, South Australia. When not writing, Braden can be found riding bikes or getting outdoors with his family. A version of this article first appeared on the Signs of the Times Australia website and is republished with permission.