It should come as no surprise to anyone that as more people are deserting urban living and moving to big cities, opting to remain single for longer, and working longer hours, they are neglecting home-cooked dinners and replacing them with processed meals. Quick, easy, and efficient, these prepared meals are often calorie dense versus nutrient-dense – think refined sugars and fats, oils, and resource and land intense agricultural products, such as beef.
Scientists are projecting that if people continue on this upward trajectory, greenhouse gas emissions will be up by 80 percent by 2050. Not only will the current diet trend contribute to greenhouse emissions and habitat degradation, but also this dietary shift will greatly increase the incidence of Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and other chronic non-communicable diseases that lower global life expectancies. According to the CDC, more than 1 out of every 3 adults suffers from obesity and, in children, an alarming 17% (almost 12.7 million), is obese. That’s roughly the entire population of Rwanda.
By shifting away from this trajectory and choosing a healthier traditional Mediterranean, pescatarian, or vegetarian diet, health would be significantly increased and, at the same time, global greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by an amount equal to the current greenhouse gas emissions of all automobiles, planes, trains, and ships. It would also prevent the destruction of an area of tropical forests and savannahs as large as half of the US, according to David Tilman, Professor of Ecology at the University of Minnesota.
More importantly, adopting a more plant-based diet, rich in vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, could reduce type II diabetes by 25 percent, death from heart disease by about 20 percent related to the omnivore diet, and cancer by about 10 percent. Interesting enough, millennials, who have been categorized as “evolvers,” or “rule-breakers,”are leaders on adopting whole-foods, plant-based diet lifestyle – whether for environmental, ethical, or health reasons, many are redecorating their dinner plates, with meat moving to a side dish or an occasional indulgence, while whole foods captures the centerpiece.
This self-awareness stems from their connectivity to the internet where they can research and witness animal cruelty on farms and slaughterhouses, the gruesome transformation of animals to food in environmental documentaries, and, more importantly, right at home – observing their parents own self-destructive behavior through poor eating habits, struggles with diabetes and dependency on America’s declining healthcare services. They are taking ownership of their bodies and lives while seeking a deeper understanding of their immediate affect on the planet.
Like so many scientists and environmentalists, millennials are also linking the important diet-health-environment trilemma as both a global challenge and opportunity in pioneering a more sustainable and eco-conscious lifestyle. Perhaps our planet is not in such bad hands afterall.
- Twenty servings of vegetables have fewer greenhouse gas emissions than one serving of beef
- Emissions per gram of protein for beef and lamb are about 250 times those of legumes, pork, chicken, dairy, and fish
- Fish caught by trawling can have three times the emissions of fish caught by traditional methods
- Rice has five times the emissions per gram of protein as wheat