How going vegan is a win-win

Patricia Tallman, author of The Restore-Our-Planet Diet: Food Choice, Our Environment, and Our Health, wants people to start thinking of how their everyday food choices affect the planet.
In her newly-published book, Tallman delves into the statistics behind meat and dairy consumption, and how reducing it, or completely cutting it out and going vegan, can reduce one’s eco-footprint.
“Just moving away from meat one day a week is more effective (in terms of energy efficiency and environmental health) than buying everything you eat locally,” she quotes from the Harvard Business Review in her book.
Some of the benefits that come with a vegan lifestyle include a lower risk of breast or prostate cancer, according to Tallman.
The Burnaby NOW caught up with Tallman, who has a doctorate in water resources engineering and a master’s degree in environmental engineering sciences, to talk about how realistic it is to become vegan and what can people do on an individual level if they choose not to make the full transition.
The book, meanwhile, is on loan at the Burnaby Public Library.

What inspired you to write this book?
There were two reasons actually. The first was, I didn’t have pets until I was much older. For the first time, I became more attuned to animals as beings, just like humans, that have feelings and desires. I began to think, what about other animals? I’m sure they value their lives and family structures, too. After I educated myself, my husband and I, independently of each other, then decided to become vegan. After about a decade, I felt that it was important to spread the message. Perhaps there are other people who are just uninformed like I was, and wouldn’t it be nice if they could learn about everything that I now know in one source.

How are some of the food choices we make on a daily basis linked to environmental issues?
Animal agriculture is more damaging to the environment than any other human activity, and that has been indicated by global organizations, like the UN, Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, just to name a few. Animal agriculture is responsible for a wide ranging number of environmental degradation. That includes, water pollution, water shortage, climate change, which we hear so much about, but a lot of people do not make the connection between our food choices and climate change land degradation, habitat loss and species extinction, the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are also a result of animal agriculture. Rainforest destruction, food scarcity and also the rise of super weeds. So, you can see it has far reaching implications.

You write about the many “environmental savings” and the health benefits that would result from everyone shifting towards a plant-based diet (veganism). Can you provide an example?
I took a traditional comfort food recipe, like the Sloppy Joe and veganized the recipe by keeping all things the same so that people know when you go plant-based, it’s not a big learning curve. You just substitute the animal protein with plant protein, which in this case, I used ground-up firm tofu. You would save close to 7,000 litres of water, close to 40 pounds of manure and 11 kilograms of what’s called CO2 equivalent. So, for this recipe for four people, that means you would save enough greenhouse gas to drive 40 kilometres. There’s a famous quote, which says, “A vegetarian in a Hummer produces fewer greenhouse emissions than a meat eater in a Toyota Prius.”

Given the meat industry and the more than 70 billion farmed animals worldwide annually, how realistic of a goal is veganism on such a large scale?
Of course, it would be best if people go vegan, but that’s an expectation that might be too high. We don’t expect the whole world to do this and we don’t expect it to happen overnight. The point is that any replacement of animal protein with plant protein is better than none. As long as you replace one meal, you’re doing something for the environment, you’re doing something for your health because there’s absolutely no cholesterol in plant foods, and of course, you’re saving animal lives. An animal didn’t have to be born, to be raised to suffer and then killed. So the more plant-based you go, the greater the benefits to everybody.

Where else do you get your protein from?
Plant foods that are high in protein are legumes, and legumes include soy beans and peanuts, beans, chickpeas, lentils, dried peas. This whole umbrella of legumes is a powerhouse of protein. Not only does it provide protein, it gives you lots of fibre, which helps you lower cholesterol, keeps you full longer so you don’t overeat, and also has lots of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It has everything good for your body. University of Southern California researchers did a study in 2014. They found that those who ate an animal-rich diet were four times more likely to die from cancer than those eating low protein, particularly if the protein derives from animals. And it was equivalent to being as bad for you as smoking. The risk of developing cancer was as high as smoking 20 cigarettes per day.

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What about in the U.S., where a lot of families often eat McDonalds and other fast food because it’s cheap. What would you say to someone who can’t afford to buy plant-based ingredients?
First of all, people think, oh, it’s going to be expensive. If you get organic, yes, and I can’t afford to eat everything organic. It’s not expensive, however, to eat plant-based. Beans are rather cheap, whole grain bread, basically if you eat whole foods, have a handful of nuts and seeds a day, vegetables, fruit, that’s basically your plant-based diet. There are some very easy meals in the book, which is another bonus. After all this explanation, I start the reader off with some basic recipes so they don’t have to go buy another book to just start cooking. A very easy meal would be, instead of making chili with beef and all the rest of it, just omit the beef, emphasize the beans and add in a variety of vegetables. How easy is that?

For more eating tips from Patricia Tallman, go to www.restoreourplanetdiet.com.

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