Don’t you think that vegetables are the unsung hero of our food system? For too long, veg has been maligned to the edge of the plate as a measly side, while meat and dairy steal all the thunder. Despite the widely known health benefits of fresh fruit and veg, our diets have been led by meat consumption. We’ve stressed our environment and wildlife to the brink, accepted inhuman livestock practices as the norm, and threatened global food security.
Well, no more. Vegetarian, flexitarian and vegan diets are steadily on the rise, and people are saying yes to veg. So this Veggie Month, we’re tucking into five tasty reasons why veg should be the main event at dinner.
“Plant-based diets are ‘win-win’ consumption patterns that are high on human health benefits and low on environmental impacts.’ (1)
1. For human health, and our planet’s
Currently, our food production and dietary choices are impacting our health and our environment in downward and interlinked spirals of increasing malnutrition, diet-related and foodborne diseases, biodiversity loss, climate change and destruction of ecosystems. (2)
As the world shifts towards eating less meat and dairy, and more diverse fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes, the positive environmental impact will be huge.
A plant-based future means we could transform the land that’s currently used either for grazing livestock, or for growing feed for livestock. ‘80% of global farmland is used to raise animals, which provide only 18% of calories eaten’ (3). This land could be used more efficiently, to grow crops for human consumption, helping to tackle hunger and obesity, which currently affects three billion people, and costs trillions of dollars a year in healthcare. (4)
This land could also be rewilded, or transformed into nature reserves, restoring natural habitats, increasing biodiversity and protecting wildlife. This is absolutely crucial, as the UK is in the bottom 10% of the world for biodiversity (5).
2. For crop diversity and resilience
Farming for plant-based diets would allow for increased diversity of crops, too. Growing varied, heritage crops, rather than dedicating swathes of land to livestock and monocultures of feed, benefitting biodiversity as well as food security. This would combat the threat some of our staple crops face from climate change and disease, such as bananas.
In 2019, WWF and Knorr released a report championing the Future 50 Foods for the planet. Spoiler alert, meat and dairy don’t feature! Instead, you’ll find a colourful variety of drought-tolerant, nutrient-dense and climate-friendly crops.
3. For climate action
Growing more fruit and veg would also allow farmers to protect soil health. Our soil is the largest carbon store on the planet, capturing more carbon than biomass and the atmosphere combined (6). We’re only just beginning to fully comprehend its complexity and importance as a living ecosystem.
Increasing the carbon stocks in the top metre of the soil by just 1% would capture more carbon than total annual global emissions from burning fossil fuels (6). More sustainable farming practices will help, including rotating plant crops allows farmers to work with the soil, reintroducing nutrients naturally, with less need for fertilisers. Organic growing methods, including companion planting, can be used on a huge scale to encourage natural predators to eat pests and restore balance to farmland, without need for pesticides.
4. For our pockets
As inflation soars and belts tighten, adding more fruit and veg to plates provides a clear cost incentive. Meat and dairy is being hit hard by inflation, with recent prices hiking by as much as 29% (7). This makes good quality meat and animal products even less affordable for many. Plant-based dinners can be whipped up for a fraction of the cost – as much as 40% less than a meat or fish meal (8) – while providing delicious, filling and nutrient-rich meals.
Eating more veg encourages us to be more creative, looking back to traditional ways of preserving and using up excess crops. Tinned, dried and frozen fruit and veg are affordable and a source of nutrition when fresh produce isn’t an option. And then there’s the energy-saving impact of eating fruit, veg and salads raw, without need for cooking at all.
5. For our food system
This comes at an interesting time for the UK, with recent salad shortages in supermarkets. Henry Dimbleby, who created The National Food Strategy: An independent review for Government, says the recent shortages are down to a number of factors, including the UK’s relationship with food and with supermarkets. He explained that UK supermarkets refuse to pay market price as European supermarkets do, instead sticking to fixed-price contracts with suppliers. When bad weather results in fewer lettuces, because there’s a scarcity, European supermarkets put their prices up. Meanwhile, UK supermarkets refuse to pay more than their fixed price. So naturally, when lettuce is in short supply and high demand, suppliers get a better price selling in Europe. Why would they sell to the UK? (9)
This comes back to the current vicious cycle of cheap food, which drives demand, lowers appreciation, and increases waste. While the UK’s shelves were bare of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, many were fully-stocked across Europe.
In a move towards plant-based eating, we believe appreciation for the fruit and veg we eat would rise, reducing wastage, and helping to build a more sustainable food system. And heck, food that celebrates fresh fruit, veg, legumes and grains is delicious! Just take a look at our recent work with professional chefs who #makeitplant. We challenge you not to drool!
We thrive on working with businesses who are taking the plant-based market by storm. After creative, sparky support with your plant-based activities? Get in touch. We’d love to help.
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While you’re here, why not have a read of our The Future is Plant report. Download it for free and get your teeth into the endless opportunities within this fascinating market.
(1) P4 https://files.worldwildlife.org/wwfcmsprod/files/Publication/file/7b5iok5vqz_Bending_the_Curve__The_Restorative_Power_of_Planet_Based_Diets_FULL_REPORT_FINAL.pdf.pdf
(2) P3 https://files.worldwildlife.org/wwfcmsprod/files/Publication/file/7b5iok5vqz_Bending_the_Curve__The_Restorative_Power_of_Planet_Based_Diets_FULL_REPORT_FINAL.pdf.pdf