by Sabra Rebo, R.D.
A few years ago my now husband and I visited Molokai to hike and have some time away from the city. After a revitalizing long weekend we stopped at a small bookstore before flying home. We ended up spending time (we almost missed our flight) just talking story with the shop owner and loving on the bookstore dog, who would sprawl out on the floor for a belly rub. In the bookstore there were T-shirts and other souvenirs that said “Malama Your Mama”. As Earth Day approaches I remember that experience and message. Taking care of our Mama, Earth, is of the utmost importance not only for ourselves but for future generations.
There are many ways to “go green” for Earth Day and every day. We often think about using less water, recycling, electric cars, and planting trees. These are all great initiatives that make a difference but I also suggest you look in your refrigerator and on your dinner plate. Taking steps toward eating a plant-based diet is an often overlooked change that has the biggest impact on the environment and your overall health.
Cattle are a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas that is many times more potent as a heat trapping gas than carbon dioxide. In addition to all that gas, animal products have a higher water footprint than crop products. And unfortunately most of the crops grown don’t go to feeding humans… they are used to feed cattle. The negative environmental impact of the cattle industry is undeniable. Change can be challenging, but taking small achievable steps toward a plant-based diet can make a big difference for the environment.
Achieving and maintaining good health so you are able to enjoy all that Earth has to offer is another benefit of a plant-based diet. A well-planned vegetarian diet reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and obesity1. Optimize your health with a plant-based diet!
Here are some suggestions to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet:
- Take small steps: Change doesn’t happen overnight. It took years to establish your current eating habits and it may take some time to establish new habits. Drastic changes made overnight are hard to maintain. Think small steps like incorporating one meatless meal per week.
- Future Plans: Set goals for yourself. Where are you now and where would you like to be? Maybe you start with the goal of one meatless meal per week and work your way up. You could also incorporate plant-based snacks into your goals. Swap your usual snacks for others, like nuts and nut butters, seaweed snacks, roasted chickpeas, and fresh fruit.
- Satisfy your Appetite: Find plant-based foods that satisfy your cravings. There are many vegetarian alternatives to foods you may already eat. Stir-fry can be made with tofu, chili with beans and/or meat analogs, and veggie burgers or portobello mushrooms make tasty alternatives to meat.
- Involve friends and family: We all need support and making the change to a plant-based diet is no different. Find friends or family members that are supportive and are willing to make changes with you. Find and cook new recipes together, try exciting new dishes at restaurants, and encourage one another.
Earth Day is a great day to start making changes that care for and protect our Earth. A plant-based diet has a lighter carbon “footprint” on the environment and is more sustainable than a diet rich in animal protein. Add in the health benefits of a plant-based diet and you have an amazing opportunity to Malama your Mama (Earth) and yourself.
1 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets”. July 2009. Volume 109. Number 7.