Plant-based Diet: Good for You, Good for the Planet
Throughout history, we can identify moments that occur that can only be attributed to a paradigm shift in public opinion. They generally precede government policy. These moments are generally brief but are the harbinger of huge changes in culture and eventually policy.
We are in the midst of a monumental shift in the perception of nutrition and the global benefits that can come from this change. At the core of the change is people want to live well; but they also want to leave something behind for subsequent generations.
The current state of affairs for Americans is abysmal. We are sick. We are the fattest society on Earth. Eighty percent of our chronic diseases – heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer – can be directly attributed to obesity. More than 35 percent of the adult population and nearly 17 percent of children qualify as obese (Federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and the Journal of the American Medical Association; January 17, 2012).
We have spent billions of dollars on drugs, surgery and health care. Current estimates put U.S. healthcare spending at approximately 16 percent of Gross Domestic Production. That’s $2.4 trillion. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expects that the health share of GDP will continue its historical upward trend, reaching 19.5 percent of GDP by 2017.
We have created trillion-dollar industries supported solely by our sickness … and to what avail? What have we accomplished? We are getting nowhere closer to healing anything. In fact, the sicker we get, the bigger the institutions that thrive on our sickness become. It’s a classic Catch-22 situation.
I recently did a study of the Standard & Poor’s 500. The S&P 500 is comprised of the 500 largest American companies and represents 75 percent of the American equity market.
I identified the largest companies in the U.S. that have a majority of their revenue reliant on Food & Beverages, Drugs, Health Care, Consumer and Insurance.
Drugs & Devices = $1.074 Trillion Market Cap / $809 Billion Revenue
Health Care = $91 Billion Market Cap / $245 Billion Revenue
Consumer = $973 Billion Market Cap / $502 Billion Revenue
Insurance = $152 Billion Market Cap / $246 Billion Revenue
TOTAL 2011 = $2,290 Trillion Market Cap / $1,802 Trillion Revenue
The problem for this market is that it is unsustainable. The obesity market is literally “eating” the hand that feeds it. You cannot profit indefinitely by killing off your customers. Meanwhile, we continue to assault our environment in a fashion that is accelerating beyond a point of no return.
I made an interesting observation while reading an essay written by Brian Treanor, from Loyola Marymount University. His focus was on the efforts by environmentalists to make a change. It was David Brower, the founder of the Sierra Club, who made a reference to: “Turn around and step forward.”
The nutrition movement and the green movement are on similar paths and both share similar characteristics.
“Blame it on capitalism, the single pursuit of maximizing profit and unrestrained growth as first principles, pursues technology and development with short-term gains in mind and with little if any substantive concern for the long-term impact on the environment and human well-being.” (Treanor)
“We cannot escape by forging on, resolutely and regardless, driven by the unmitigated inertia of our outworn habits, until we have forced ourselves over the brink in the ‘giant step for mankind’ nobody needs. When you have reached the edge of an abyss, the only progressive move you can make is to step backward …” (Alwyn Rees, author). An unknown author then added instead of stepping backwards: “Turn around and step forward.”
There exists an inflection point where the chart turns. It is the point, as a nation, when we face the abyss and turn away … and take a step forward; a step toward our personal well-being and the health of the earth. “This is not a return to the past, but a step toward a different future.” (Brower, Sierra Club)
Mark Bittman recently commented in the New York Times: “Five years ago, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization published a report called, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which maintained that 18 percent of greenhouse gases were attributable to the raising of animals for food. The number was startling. A couple of years later, however, it was suggested that the number was too small. Two environmental specialists for the World Bank, Robert Goodland (the bank’s former lead environmental adviser) and Jeff Anhang, claimed, in an article in “World Watch,” that the number was more like 51 percent. It’s been suggested that the number is extreme, but the men stand by it, as Mr. Goodland wrote to me this week: “All that greenhouse gas isn’t emitted directly by animals.” But according to the most widely used rules of counting greenhouse gases, indirect emissions should be counted when they are large and when something can be done to mitigate or reduce them.” (source)
The solution is to promote a society that is not dependent on animal protein. This is the moment where two parallel causes can unite. By moving to a plant-based diet, we can step away from the abyss. By eliminating our need for animal protein, we are drastically reducing our carbon footprint. It takes a considerable amount of energy to raise animals for nutrition. The turn and step forward is our new approach toward your own well-being, a life that is well lived and nutritionally sound.
In one simple act, we can embrace two life-changing causes – one cause for you, one cause for everyone.
Last Christmas, I was surrounded by my wife’s family. She had lost 30 pounds in less than six months of starting a plant-based lifestyle. My brother-in-law and mother-in-law lost 50 pounds between them. I had lost 35 pounds in the same period. I observed that we were missing an entire person worth of fat at the table. We were not feeding 115 pounds of excess weight. That’s 730,000 calories a year of unused energy. Apply that 20 percent weight loss across 300 million people. … Imagine the reductions in energy needs. Forget about electric cars and solar panels, about “drill, drill, drill;” forget about it all.
I want to share a little secret. It is very simple and the skeptics among us will doubt its effectiveness based on its simplicity.
The secret: Eat plants and step away from the abyss.
Here’s what a plant-based diet has done for me.
On an animal-based diet I was 235 pounds, my total cholesterol was 262 and my blood pressure was 145:110 (December 2010).
I had quadruple bypass surgery on March 23, 2011.
On a plant-based diet I am 194 pounds, my total cholesterol is 153 and my blood pressure is 105:75 (December 2011).
Ian Welch is an avid runner who lives in Florida with his wife. Their goal is to communicate the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle from an inspirational vantage point.
Photo credit: jksimpson