A Plant Forward Diet: What Is It?
Last Tuesday, UVA Green Dining had a table at Runk Dining Hall, promoting the benefits of a plant forward diet both to our general health and to the health of the Earth.
But what exactly is a plant-foward diet?
A lot of people I asked weren't sure. A good amount of people assumed it meant cutting out meat altogether. Some seemed very uncomfortable with this idea. People who like meat don't necessarily love to be confronted with the idea of having to let it go completely.
The plant-forward movement is an attempt to address this phenomenon; to bridge the gap between strict veganism and vegetarianism and meat eaters. The transition to a vegan lifestyle would require such a huge change for some people, that they just completely write off the idea. Some people just really like a hamburger every now and then. In the pursuit to change how we eat in order to preserve the environment, at some point insisting everyone become vegan or vegetarian can be unrealistic. But the plant-forward diet
offers an alternative, a stepping stone in a sense. The idea is this: a plant forward diet means eating meals that are primarily vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, or seeds, while still allowing meat, just on a smaller scale. The recommended amount of meat in a meal would be about 2 oz, a little less than the size of a deck of cards. So does plant-forward eating mean you'll never be able to eat chicken or steak again? No, not at all. It just means you'll eat LESS of it.
But what's the point? Why is eating large amounts of meat or dairy bad anyway? What is so wrong about having meat as a primary food source?
There are actually a couple reasons to consider trying out the plant-forward diet. One is the affect it will have on the environment. Producing meat requires more water, land, and energy that it takes to produce plant protein. It takes 100 times more water to produce 1 kg of animal protein than it does to produce 1 kg of grain protein, and animal proteins account for 14.5% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.(2) Meat production also requires significantly more land, causing it to take up 83% of farmland while only contributing 18% of calories and 37% of proteins. Studies show that if we completely cut off dairy and meat consumption, farmlands would require 75% less land than they use today.(1) This would result in less wild areas being used for farming, thus reducing what is currently the leading cause of mass extinction of wildlife.
But eating this way isn't just good for the environment: it's good for you too. Studies have shown that adding more plants to your plate and cutting down on meat consumption lowers the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.(2) Currently in the U.S. about 387 million people suffer from diabetes, and that number is expected to almost double by 2035.(3) Studies also show that those who eat more vegetables on average are 30% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.(3)
Cutting out meat for one meal a week or one day of the month shouldn't feel like too big of a change. But if everyone did it? All 325 million people in America, or all 7.5 billion people in the world? That change would be HUGE. And hey, you never know, maybe you'll start out cutting out meat one day a month, then one day a week, then a couple days a week and all of a sudden it is more rare for you to eat meat than it is to skip it. And maybe you won't miss it as much as you thought you would. But the idea here is you don't have to think about that yet. It is all small steps, and if all you can handle right now is one day a month without meat, that will still make a difference.
Whether you're a vegetarian, or someone who couldn't picture going a day without meat let alone their whole lives, there are still possibilities to join the Green Eating movement. If you are at all interested in sustainability on Grounds or learning more about events like Veg Out, sign up for our monthly newsletter! You can sign up on our UVA Green Dining website at: https://uvadining1.wixsite.com/uvagreendining
If you are looking to try out plant-forward eating but are unsure of how to begin, here is an article with some tips to help you get started!
2. Aramark 2018 Plant Forward Study