Going Plant-Based for the Earth: How on Earth?

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When I first tried going vegan, I didn’t really do it for the Earth. In fact, I did it because I was curious how and why those weirdos managed to survive on such a diet.
…It turned out that there are many reasons to be a weirdo.

My goal was simply to challenge myself, and maybe learn to cook something that isn’t a fried egg. Determined, I embarked on an online journey to find recipes.

…I found recipes, as well as many good reasons to be a weirdo. Before I only had a vague awareness of why eating plants is better for the environment, and barely thought about how animals used for food don’t have particularly nice lives.

While the world population is increasing, our natural resources are depleting at an alarming rate. Animal agriculture accounts for almost 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Gerber 2013), and uses 30% of all of our land (Steinfeld 2006). The Earth will simply not able to keep up with the demand for animal products as the human population continues to grow, and global climate change will affect not just the food we eat, but our very existence (Heffernan 2017).

So there are good reasons to go veg, but how? It turned out that surviving on a vegan diet is not so complicated. And so, 2 years later, I am bringing you some tips on how to do it.

Firstly, embrace your own style of cooking. Some like to follow recipes; others enjoy improvising. I tend to improvise personally, but it is up to you. Regardless, it is worthwhile to explore some of the millions of recipes online to get ideas. You could also invest in a cookbook – you can get them cheaply online, or browse charity shops. I would recommend “Vegan on the Cheap” by Robin Robertson for budget-friendly ideas, and “Soy, Not Oi! 2” if you’d like a truly massive collection (with a musical accompaniment and a punk angle to boot). There is also “Vegetarian Nosh for Students” – what is not vegan already can be transformed with some imagination.

The advice to cook in bulk is always given to students, but trust me, it will change your life. For example, if you cook a big stew (e.g. Vegetable Lentil Stew from Vegan on the Cheap) and have enough fridge/freezer space, you can keep it frozen for several days and simply defrost it anytime. However, be careful storing rice: cool it quickly, do not reheat it more than once and eat it within 24 hours. It would also be a good idea to make several different meals, freeze and rotate throughout the week. If you happen to have nice housemates or like-minded friends you could also cook in turns or chip in ingredients and share meals.

For a student plant-based diet, the brilliance of tinned beans, own brand cooking sauces and instant noodles cannot be stressed highly enough! Dry beans and pulses are not hard to cook either – simply soak them in water overnight before cooking. Go-to recipes include pasta with tomato sauce, broccoli and green lentils and beans on toast (spruce up with seasonings and hummus or greens).

There is a common misconception about vegan diets being expensive. My view is that it depends on where you live – in the UK it is simply not true, even in comparison to a more typical diet that involves meat. That is, if you know what, how, and when to buy.
There are many delicious alternatives to meat and cheese, but they are definitely more pricey than beans. A way to enjoy them on a budget is to watch out for offers, and use them to compliment your meal rather than making them the star of the show.

Making a meal plan can be helpful when getting to grips with a plant-based diet. It can both save you stress and reduce food waste. About 30% of all food that is produced is simply thrown away, and keeping food waste sealed in plastic bags contributes to methane emissions. So think before you throw away.

Unfortunately, Southampton city council does not collect compostable waste, but there is a Southampton Hub project, BioCycle, that does! You can sign up for your food waste to be collected by them. However, do remember that most animal products (except crushed egg shells) are not compostable. All in all, plant diets win!

References:

Gerber, P. J. et alTackling Climate Change Through Livestock (FAO, 2013).
Heffernan, O., 2017. Sustainability: A meaty issue. Nature544(7651), pp.S18-S20.
Steinfeld, H. et alLivestock’s Long Shadow (FAO, 2006).

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