The future is looking grim when it comes to climate change. Last year was the second-hottest on record, triggering catastrophic weather events around the globe, including bushfires that are still raging in Australia. World leaders are refusing to recognise the global climate crisis in favour of profiting from fossil fuels.

And despite protest groups like Extinction Rebellion shutting down streets in London, nothing seems to be changing. While it is understandably easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless when faced with the mounting bad news, there are small steps we can take to reduce our personal carbon footprints — and eating less meat could be the easiest one.

According to a UN study, 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gases are emitted by livestock every year. That is about even with emissions from all forms of transportation — cars, trains, ships, planes — combined. Cows and sheep are the biggest culprits, as they require huge amounts of land and water, not to mention about a billion tons of grain to feed per year. It would be far more efficient for the food used to raise livestock to go directly to people instead.

Dairy is the next greatest contributor to climate change, followed by pork, poultry and eggs. Eating a more plant-focused diet can drastically reduce one’s carbon footprint, and eventually lead to large-scale change, but it can be difficult to know where to begin.

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When @sarahjampel’s dinner ends up looking like a collection of what other people might call sides, she makes these lentils. But these aren’t just any lentils. They are MARINATED LENTILS. Which is really just a fancy term for cooked lentils (beluga or Le Puy) tossed with olive oil that’s been infused with all sorts of delicious spices, aromatics, seeds, and hard herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme). They’re as good on their own as they are tossed into a leafy salad, nestled onto a sweet potato, or mixed into cook grains with herbs and cheese. The added fat from the infused oil makes the lentils rich and luxurious and improves pretty much anything plain-ish that you toss with them. 📷: @yungbludlau food styling: @susietheodorou

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Megan Hallett, a London-based nutrition coach and studying nutritional therapy, eats a “plant-centric” diet focused on nutrient-dense plant foods while incorporating wild-caught fish and free-range eggs. Over the last five years, she has transitioned from a pescetarian diet to being fully vegan, to re-incorporating fish and eggs for added fats and protein. The biggest personal benefit to plant-centric eating that she has noticed has been the dramatic increase in fibre.

“The standard western diet is severely lacking in fibre, or at least the healthy, nutrient-rich sources,” says Hallett. “Eating plant-based forces you to overwhelm your plate with vitamin and mineral-dense, fibrous fruits and veggies that are great for your digestive system and therefore, great for the rest of your body. Since eating more plant-based the biggest improvement has been in my digestive system and energy levels – the two really go hand in hand.”

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Happy Sunday ✨🌿 Celebrating the day of rest with my favourite veg PACKED bowl from the farmers market round the corner, whilst embracing every moment spent with Mum today 🙌 This bowl has become a Sunday ritual, so much so that I feel a little lost as to what to make on a Sunday when my favourite stall is absent. Sometimes when cooking plant-based, we focus so much on the carbohydrate sources and vegetables, that we forget the need for fat and protein, often leading to that hungry feeling later on in the day, or just not feeling completely satisfied at all. Therefore when eating out, or grabbing food on the go, I’ll always make sure it includes those two essentials. This lentil burger bowl is drizzled with glorious olive oil, packed full of legumes and served with the most generous helping of vibrant coriander hummus – all amazing sources of fat and protein + fibre too 🤩 Off to see the new Dumbo film this evening. Will I cry my eyes out? Most definitely.

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Hallett offers the following advice for anyone attempting to go vegan: “Stay away from processed, fake meats and cheese and learn basic cookery skills so you can make your produce taste great. That way you won’t miss the meat or need to replace it like-for-like.” She also emphasises getting enough healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut milk and olive oil, saying: “We need fats for hormone health, cell membrane integrity and blood sugar stabalisation.”

Studies have shown that plant-based diets can have massive health benefits, due to their focus on nutrient-dense foods and tendency to be lower in calories, saturated fats and cholesterol. Still, many people considering going vegan are concerned with getting enough protein.

Hallett suggests combining different plant-based proteins to get a complete source. “Beans alone won’t do the job, you’ll need to pair them up with a small portion of rice,” she says. “That being said, a lot of vegan protein sources tend to be carbohydrate dominant, and too many in one go can cause drastic blood sugar spikes, so opt for organic, fermented tofu and tempeh as an alternative to countless portions of legumes and grains. I love a good protein powder too and if you’re okay with them, eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.”

According to a study done in 2018, eggs are also the most environmentally friendly animal product, emitting an average of 2.1 kg of carbon dioxide per 50g of protein. In comparison, getting 50g of protein from beef results in an average impact of 17.7g of carbon dioxide, while 50g of protein from beans amounts to 0.4g. Simply supplementing red meat consumption with a mix of eggs and plant-based protein could drastically minimise greenhouse gas emissions.

A fully vegan diet isn’t realistic for everyone, and that is okay. Climate experts agree that just consciously eating less meat can help the planet’s, and humankind’s, future. Hallett isn’t here for the all or nothing approach either. The biggest piece of misinformation that she would like to dispel is that you have to go completely vegan to make a difference. “I believe that every little helps. Whether you opt for meatless Mondays, eating meat two days of the week, or trying a new vegan café, I think there is too much judgement around being perfect with our food.”

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When you really love nut butter 😍 One of my favourites, remade today with @meridianfoods smooth AF almond butter. Up somewhere on the blog 🙌 I bang on about having to watch how much sugar I eat due to my PCOS and hormonal imbalances, but in real life, happiness is also a major player in health. It’s also all about finding out what works, and I’ve found that the odd raw dessert here and there doesn’t have much impact (however, it most definitely is a sanity restorer). These are high fat – key for healthy hormone production, stabilised blood sugar and keeps you FULL 🙌 I only use dates in my raw desserts, which are fibre filled and a whole way to sweeten up snacks. Yum ✨

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So, whether you’re one of the estimated quarter million UK residents wrapping up Veganuary, or you’re a habitual meat-eater conscious of the negative effects your diet has on the environment, try to make 2020 the year of eating less meat. Follow plant-based chefs or nutritionists like Hallett on Instagram for food inspiration, or invest in a quality plant-based cookbook. Set small goals, like Hallett suggests, and try only eating plant-based at home or only eating meat and dairy a couple days a week.

If everyone takes small steps towards more sustainable eating habits, it will lead to a huge positive impact on our planet’s changing climate.

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