March Featured Story – How Fruits + Vegetables Can Save The World

Metro is celebrating National Nutrition Month the whole month of March. The theme this year is #MeatlessMarch, and the movement is encouraging people to incorporate some meat-less meals into their routines. At a glance, it would seem that this is simply a health-driven initiative backed by providers hoping to lower their patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol by adding more veggies to their diets. Though that is a part of it, it isn’t the only reason to go meatless this March (and beyond!).

Food waste is killing our planet

The United States is one of the biggest contributors to food waste on the planet. An incredible amount of energy and water resources goes into the production of food in the United States, and an estimated 40% of that food ends up being thrown away rather than consumed. The food we throw away is sent to our landfills where it produces carbon dioxide as it rots. As of 2007, global food waste had produced an estimated 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide leaking into our atmosphere. One of the simplest ways for the average person to help with sustainability is by eating the food that they buy and reducing what is thrown into the garbage.

The ugly truth about meat in America

The commercial livestock industry produces 7.1 tons of carbon dioxide per year, accounting for 18% of the total greenhouse gas emissions occurring on the planet.  The Environmental Working Group conducted research that suggests that the commercial production of red meat produces 10 to 40 times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as commercial vegetable production. Even more staggering is the fact that, according to EarthSave.org, “It takes 2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil, and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of feedlot beef.” Considering that the average yield from a single cow is 490 pounds of edible meat, that would indicate that 1.2 million gallons of water, over 5,800 pounds of grain, over 17,000 pounds of topsoil, and the energy equivalent of 490 gallons of gasoline goes into each cow that is commercially farmed for meat consumption. The United States farms roughly 39 million cows per year for this purpose. If consumers were to cut down on red meat consumption, the industry would be forced to produce less products, in turn cutting down the carbon emissions associated with commercial cattle production.

Fruits + Veggies to the Rescue!

Research suggests that if the world’s largest consumers of red meat and dairy products were to reduce their consumption by just 40%, 168 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be stopped from poisoning our planet. Enter the “reducetarian” movement, which advocates for general meat consumption reduction, whether it be by going fully vegan, or by moderating your daily or weekly meat intake. This is exactly what #MeatlessMarch is about; making a concerted effort to eat less red meat for a whole 30 days. The best way to accomplish this is to replace meat-protein with plant-protein, but simply switching to a vegetarian lifestyle isn’t necessarily the whole answer.

While fruit and vegetable production accounts for much less greenhouse gas emissions than almost all meat-based protein production, the cost of getting those fruits and vegetables to our plates sometimes comes at a high cost (and a heavy carbon footprint). The first step in creating a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly diet is to turn to local farmers first. Buying produce from as close to your home as possible drastically reduces the greenhouse gasses emitted to get it to you. Choice of produce is equally as important. Some produce and plant-based protein products, such nuts, bananas and strawberries, require a ton of natural resources to produce. Limiting those foods in your diet is a big help. Choosing low-cost (from a production standpoint) produce such as leafy greens, grains, and beans or lentils is the best route to go when planning a sustainable diet.

There are many vegetables that pack just as much protein as meat! Fill your plate with broccoli (2 grams of protein per serving), spinach (3 grams of protein per serving), chickpeas (6 grams of protein per serving), or edamame (18 grams of protein per serving) to get the satisfying “fullness” feeling that you get from eating red meat. If better taste or texture is what you’re going after, marinate and grill up some portabella mushroom caps for a perfect burger alternative!

Be reasonable while being responsible

Fully committing to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and we get that. You know yourself better than anyone else; if you think you can comfortably commit to even one meat-less meal per week, that is progress and you will be helping the cause! More than anything we just want people to be more cognizant of what they are consuming and how it is effecting the world around us.

Metro is dedicated to helping our patients become the healthiest version of themselves. Stop by the health center waiting room and grab any of the meatless recipes we’ve provided our patients to encourage healthier lifestyles. If you try a recipe and post it on social media, tag us #MetroHealthPgh or @MetroHealthPgh and we will feature your post on our social media accounts!

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This blog post was written by Kelsey Moran with Spencer Design Co. For more blog posts by Kelsey, visit the SDC blog here.