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Can a vegan diet really reduce my carbon footprint? Plate up for the planet

We’re beginning to look harder at what we put on our plates. A recent survey found that Britain’s vegan population had grown exponentially - in 2016 it was estimated there were at least 542,000 people following a vegan diet. Since then this figure has continued to rise. We spoke to Louise Davies, founder of The Vegan Society’s Plate Up for the Planet campaign, to find out what difference eating green can make to the environment.

Campaigns such as Veganuary and Plate Up for the Planet are playing their part in this green revolution, challenging us to all hail kale and choose chickpeas over chicken. These online initiatives are helping on-the-fence vegans decide whether tofu or not tofu, drumming up awareness of the potential problems with the meat and dairy industry and encouraging people to give a greener diet a shot whether for a week, 31 days, or a lifetime.

Plate Up for the Planet is helping to highlight the hugely positive environmental impact that people can have simply by going plant-based. Louise explains: “The campaign is aimed at people who care about the environment, and making them aware of the benefits that they can have by choosing a vegan diet. When you look at the comparison of things like beans v.s beef and the related carbon emissions of producing those, opting for the vegan option is one of the most significant things you can do.” 2017’s campaign collectively saved a whopping 147,000 kg CO2e - that’s enough carbon dioxide to fly to the moon and back!

It’s no secret that our planet is at temperature tipping point, and, with the Paris climate agreement requesting the world’s nations to commit to preventing what scientists regard as irreversible and dangerous levels of climate change, it seems important that we also make a personal commitment to reducing our own impact. But can the food we consume really make that much of a difference to our ecological footprint?

Louise says: “There’s lots of reputable organisations like Chatham House who have said that we radically need to rethink our meat and dairy consumption if we’re going to hit our Paris Climate Change targets. Even the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation) have said we need to be eating differently. Those of us who are concerned about climate change need to start at the real basics of what we’re eating. There are lots of things that governments can do to help tackle these issues, but we have to take on responsibility ourselves as individuals too.”

So where to start? It’s an exciting time in the food industry - alive with innovation, from bleeding beetroot burgers to ‘Gary’ the vegan cheese and Louise is keen to highlight that this needn’t be “a chore or a life of bean soaking!”. Above all, she stresses that vegan cookery can be fun and interesting: “It’s a really enjoyable way to start thinking about food. There are even innovations you can use such as chickpea water to make meringues and things that you probably would never have come across if you weren’t eating in this way.”

For those feeling a little daunted by the prospect of ditching dairy for a week, the website is full of mouthwatering recipes, all of which have had carbon emission tests in order to show how much lower their food footprints are, while also helping you to stay inspired throughout the week. Drag and drop your favourite recipes into the seven day meal plan and print it out to stay on track. This year sees some incredibly ‘gnawsome’ recipes from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Thomasina Miers, as well as loads of other information about general nutrition advice to help you on your journey.

Plate Up for the Planet is a great first step to take if you’re interested in taking the plant-based plunge. Louise suggests thinking about what you love eating and then veganising it with simple replacements, such as meat substitutes, chickpeas or beans. She says: “There is a fantastic vegan community, where you can get answers to all your questions online.”

Signing up to the campaign is simple. You’ll be able to choose your start date when you sign up to the challenge, meaning you can begin the seven days at any time. The campaign offers a fun entry point into veganism, where you can find plenty of support and guidance. You’ll receive an email every day with new recipes, tips and information, so you’re less likely to fall off the wagon. Louise comments: “It’s quite a transformative thing to do and I appreciate that not everyone is going to be able to do that over night, so starting with a seven day challenge or cutting down gradually is a good way to get on that vegan journey.”

If you’re ready to Plate Up for the Planet, then you can sign up here. Alternatively, if you’re still curious about the relationship between animal agriculture and its effect on global warming, then why not read on for more information.

Plate Up for the Planet
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