Eat more plants and fewer animals | Opinion

Better for our lakes, better for the planet

May 2, 2022 6:00 am

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

On April 22, Mayor Melvin Carter issued a proclamation urging the public to consume more plant-based foods in place of animal products. Promoting plant-rich eating could be a key factor in achieving the city’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality in city operations by 2030 and citywide by 2050.

“We join communities across our nation and around the world in encouraging members of our community to learn more about the benefits of plant-based diets,” the proclamation states.

Carter’s proclamation is especially timely, as the threat of climate change looms ever larger. Earlier this month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its most recent report on the climate crisis and issued another urgent warning that the time to act is now. Citing failed commitments to curb emissions by governments and corporations, UN officials said that, without immediate action, humans are on track to creating an unlivable planet.

Animal agriculture’s central role in the sustainability crisis is well-documented. Farming animals for food is a leading cause of climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss, and other threats to the planet. Animal products put undue strain on the planet because they require much more land, feed, water and other resources to produce than plant-based foods.

Clearing extensive areas for grazing and growing crops for farm animals has precipitated the vast destruction of forests and other critical wildlife habitat. These rapidly disappearing plant-rich landscapes are essential for capturing and storing carbon to mitigate global warming.

In Minnesota, animal farming is a leading source of contamination threatening our iconic 10,000 lakes. The unthinkable quantities of excrement that farm animals produce each day, and the massive amounts of fertilizer and pesticides used to grow their feed crops inevitably wash into our waterways.

A 2020 Environmental Working Group study found that the continued expansion of animal farming threatens water quality in nearly all farm counties in Minnesota. According to a state agency report, 40 percent of Minnesota lakes and rivers fail to meet basic water quality standards. From safe recreation to safe drinking water, all Minnesotans depend on the protection of our waterways from the expansion of animal agriculture.

A growing body of research shows that limiting animal agriculture and moving towards a plant-based future could be a critical piece of the solution that saves our planet. A recent peer-reviewed study in PLOS Climate found that shifting to a plant-based food system over the next 15 years would prevent enough greenhouse gasses to offset most emissions from all other industries over the course of the century. In other words, eating plant-based foods is one of the clearest paths to averting climate catastrophe.

Improvement — not perfection — should be our collective goal. The vast majority of consumers driving the remarkable growth of plant-based proteins produced by companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are not vegetarians or vegans, but omnivores making an effort to eat a more plant-centric diet. Although vegan and vegetarian diets have an especially positive impact on the environment, our struggling planet depends most upon the food choices of the broader population.

A growing number of local restaurants offer a starting point for people interested in trying more plant-based foods. St. Paul’s first Black-owned, plant-based restaurant, Insane Vegan, opened for business in April in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood. Award-winning St. Paul restaurant J.Selby’s recently celebrated its fifth anniversary of serving plant-based comfort foods in the Summit-University neighborhood. Dozens of other plant-based businesses have launched in Minnesota over the past five years.

Some local programs, like the Explore Veg Challenge organized by Compassionate Action for Animals, provide support and perks to people interested in increasing their consumption of plant-based foods. Participating restaurants, including Insane Vegan and J. Selby’s, are offering 15% off to customers who take the Explore Veg Challenge and commit to vegetarian or vegan eating for 21 days in May.

Every meal makes a difference. Each of us can heed Carter’s call to action by choosing more plant-based foods, and in 2022, getting started is easier than ever before. Together, we can mitigate climate change, protect wildlife habitat, and preserve Minnesota’s precious lakes for generations to come.

Building a sustainable future starts on our plates. Let’s eat accordingly.

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Julie Knopp
Julie Knopp

Julie Knopp serves as president of the board of Compassionate Action for Animals in Minneapolis. She is a communications specialist and also a freelance writer covering topics related to animals and the environment.