Eat for the Planet…Q&A with One Green Planet Founder, Nilesh Zacharias

How big a problem for the environment is meat production and consumption?

The heart of the issue is we are extracting natural resources on this planet much faster than those resources are capable of replenishing themselves. The key driver of this impractical and unsustainable production and consumption cycle is the industrial livestock industry that we rely on to feed the growing population of the world.

23 percent of the world’s freshwater goes to animal agriculture system, while nearly 700 million people suffer from water scarcity, and 40 percent of the world’s grain is fed to farm animals, while nearly a billion people go to bed hungry every night. Not only is meat production the leading driver of climate change, but is also responsible for air and water pollution, land degradation, deforestation and is pushing several species to the brink of extinction.

If we continue relying on this farming system to produce meat that can feed the world, as our population grows from 7.5 billion (today) to nearly 10 billion in 2050, we’ll need 50 percent more land and will have to produce more food in the next 40 years than in the previous 10,000 years combined. In addition, there’s a high risk of catastrophic climate change in the years ahead.

Why should people care about this issue and what difference can one person really make?

People should care because if we do nothing we’re heading towards a future of potential food, energy, and water shortages because we won’t be able to produce enough food for our growing population without degrading land, water, biodiversity and the climate on a global scale.

The best part is the solution is so simple! Each and every one of us has the power to make a positive impact three or more times a day, with every food choice we make. Producing plant-based foods utilizes significantly less natural resources and emits far less greenhouse gas emissions than meat production. Therefore, by eating plant-based for just one day one individual can save 1,500 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of land and 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. If everyone around the world cut down on their meat consumption, imagine the impact we could make!

What can we, as individuals, do on a daily basis to help the planet?

If you want to be a part of the solution, do these 3 simple things:

  1. Firstly, eat an entirely or primarily plant-based diet and spread the word so you can encourage even more people to eat this way.

  2. Secondly, encourage the food industry, including manufacturers, grocery stores, as well as restaurant chains to offer more plant-based options.

  3. And lastly, encourage your government representatives to change policies that currently give industrial animal agriculture an unfair advantage and do your best to support organizations that are working hard to bring about such changes at a policy level.

What advice would you give to meat eaters who ‘need meat in their life’?

You can still help by just moderating your meat consumption. Start by leaving meat off your plate one meal a day, or even just one day a week. Or, try limiting consumption of your meaty favourites to just the weekend. Think of meat as a luxury, rather than a necessity.

In addition, I would encourage meat eaters to explore the world of plant-based meats. Thanks to consumer demand for meatless options, several established food manufacturers and fast-growing startups now have products on the market that taste, feel, smell, and even bleed like the real thing.

I believe it is time to shift vegetables, grains, and plant-proteins to the center of our plates and to shove meat to the side – or better, off of it altogether! You owe it to yourself and future generations to give it a try.

What was the inspiration for your book, Eat for The Planet?

Our current food system, dominated by industrial meat production, is the single most destructive industry on the planet. I wrote Eat For The Planet because I feel like we still have a fighting chance to transform this system from the inside out.

While there have been many books written about the impact of food on the environment, I felt like the world needed a fast-paced, fact-rich, easily digestible book that made a thoughtful case for lessening our reliance on industrial meat production and how minimal dietary changes can have a lasting impact on the planet for generations to come.

Nil Zacharias is the co-founder of One Green Planet, the largest digital media platform focused on food and sustainability. He is also host of the popular weekly podcast, "#EatForThePlanet with Nil Zacharias” and co-author of the book, Eat For The Planet. Nil started his career as a media and technology lawyer and worked for over a decade in the digital media and online advertising space in various business and operational roles prior to founding One Green Planet. He can be found on Twitter @nilzach.

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