by Kenden Alfond of Jewish Food Hero
The scale of the environmental crisis facing us all is overwhelming. When we think about the actions our governments need to take, we might feel frustrated or helpless. As individuals, we can fly less, get rid of our cars and use public transport and bicycles instead, plant more trees, focus on green energy, vote for politicians who have an environmental vision, buy less, stop using single use plastics, compost and recycle. The list of things we as individual citizens could and might do can feel intimidating.
The most simple and effective environmental action
Food production and consumption impacts animals and our environment. In particular, land use and emissions from factory farming, other large-scale meat and dairy production, and overfishing contribute to climate change.
One of the most simple and effective daily actions we can take is to modify the way we eat. The dietary choices that are better for the environment are conveniently also those which allow us to achieve optimal human health. Overconsumption of meat, fish, dairy and processed foods is destructive for our environment and our personal health. It is motivating to think that we can positively impact the environment with our daily food choices and that these same food choices help our physical health too.
The great news is, going vegan or committing to a plant-based eating pattern will provide instant and powerful benefits for your personal health. At the same time, you will know that you are playing your role in protecting our environment.
But how will we get enough nutrients?
How many times have you heard someone mention the idea that a vegan diet is lacking in nutrition? Be honest, have you ever wondered if it was possible, natural or healthy for a child to eat only plant-based foods?
You don’t need to buy lots of special products or do a lot of complex calculations to make sure you’re getting enough nutrition. B12 is the only vitamin which people following vegan or plant-based eating patterns need to get via a supplement (this is the one I spray into my mouth and my daughters mouth everyday!) For everything else, consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains and legumes provides absolutely everything the body needs to function at optimal health. And yes, even for children!
Step away from the processed foods
We are living in the era when plant-based and vegan eating patterns are gaining massive traction, as large numbers of people recognize the harm that consumption of animal products does to our environment. At the same time, more and more people are opting for plant-based and vegan alternatives to animal products out of personal pursuit for better physical health. This might mean opting for soya or nut milks rather than dairy, or enjoying the health benefits of tofu rather than red meat.
With the increase in consumers has come an explosion in the manufacturing and commercialisation of vegan and plant-based products. “Vegan” has been appropriated as a marketing buzz word for healthy, which has led to us being encouraged to buy processed packaged products which, while still avoiding the harm of animal products, contain unnatural ingredients and are packaged in a way which is incredibly destructive to our environment.
Our habitual consumption of processed and packaged foods is doing nothing for our bodies, is harming our environment. perhaps worst of all, reliance on packaged food limits our basic knowledge of nutrition. We are perfectly capable of creating simple, nourishing meals and snacks using only natural, plant-based and vegan ingredients. Even better, it does not have to be complicated or take a lot of time!
Here are four easy ways to eat your way to a better environment:
- Serve more fresh vegetables and fruits at every meal
In reality, there are probably already plenty of plant-based/vegan dishes on your table or in your meal rotation. Maybe you already regularly enjoy delicious fresh vegetable salads and whole fruits, herb rice dishes or baked potato fries. You do not have to swap your roast chicken for a complicated faux-meat creation. Simply add more of the dishes you usually eat with it, or add an extra vegetable dish with some protein rich beans. Here are 17 plant-based recipes that your eyes, mouth and gut will love.
- Eat more starchy vegetables, tubers and whole grains
Tubers (hello potatoes!), starchy vegetables (squashes, pumpkins) and whole grains (rice, oats, barley, etc) are satiating. And no, they will not make you fat! We cannot live on vegetables and fruit alone. Tubers, whole grains and legumes are rich in vitamins and dietary fiber, both of which are essential to our health.
For too long, the diet industry has promoted eating enormous portions of animal protein alongside non-starchy vegetables. How is that filling anyone up? We need complex carbohydrate to fill our stomachs and to provide the long lasting energy which fuels us to go about our busy lives.
Whole grains are one of the least intensive foods to produce. Processing and refining whole grains uses extra energy and resources and therefore has a larger environmental impact. By eating the whole grain, we cut out a large part of the production process and we retain the nutritious benefits of the whole grain.
Here are three recipes using these filling and nourishing ingredients:
- delicious toasted almond brown rice salad with dried cherries
- simple baked potato fries recipe for a perfect side dish
- double baked sweet potato tzimmes: a modern remake of a Jewish classic
- Opt for legumes like beans, lentils, peas
Legumes are a protein rich vegetable food that are packed with nutrients. They are also versatile and can be added to many recipes to boost protein and replace meat, fish and dairy. Use beans, lentils and peas in soups and stews, as a satisfying side dish, puree them for dips, add them to salads, and use them to make stuffed vegetables, burgers and meatballs.
- Serve protein only once during a meal
It can be tempting for converts to vegan and plant-based eating patterns to worry about protein, and try to add it to every stage of every meal. You can add beans to salads, sprinkle seeds and nuts on mains and desserts, include coconut in everything. While it is a good idea to do these, there is no need to add protein to every element of a meal, or to include it as every course. Once again, ensuring you consume a variety of plant-based foods is the best way to ensure you are getting rounded nutrition, and removes the need for any complex calculations.
Act simply and act now
The environmental crisis requires that each of us change how we live on our earth. Food is a daily choice that makes a large impact on the environment. Committing to stopping eating meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs is positive for the environment and for our health.
Kenden Alfond is the founder of Jewish Food Hero, an international plant-based food blog that nourishes your body, mind and spirit. She is the author of The Jewish Food Hero Cookbook and Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves. Join the Jewish Food Hero Community here for inspiring articles and plant-based recipes.