The Green Revolution of the 1960’s increased food production for a rapidly growing population. Now 50 years later we could do with another one! But what if the solution has been literally under our noses. Waiting for us to take advantage of it?
The answer has come through a recent study which has highlighted the impact of our food choices. It found that 80% of our agricultural land is used to produce animal products but only provides 20% of our calories. This is because animals have to consume a lot of plant material to produce meat and dairy products roughly 10 to 1 for food and water. Meaning it needs a lot of grass or 7kg of grain to make 1 kg of meat.
In contrast, the remaining 20% of agricultural land, producing plant-based foods for human consumption provides 80% of our calories. The implication is that on a plant-based diet we could reduce farmland by up to 75%!
You could call this the ‘eat your greens’ revolution. A bit like my tea time battles with my mother over eating vegetables. It can create a similar reaction today! But If this was a new technology that produced a 400% increase in food it would be a Nobel prize-winning idea. The only problem is our childhood traumas of soggy brusselsprouts and lukewarm cabbage. Don’t worry, now there are so many exciting plant-based products and recipes to fill the gaps.
The great thing about this ‘Greens Revolution’ is there is no catch. We don’t have to pollute the earth or be more dependent on fossil fuels and chemicals. Quite the opposite in fact. Pulses (beans and lentils) are the best source of plant-based protein. These plants actually fix nitrogen from the air with the help of fungi. After harvesting the beans the decomposing roots are a natural fertilizer. So it’s a double whammy of pant protein and healthy fibre for us and nitrogen and compost for the soil.
This isn’t a new superfood craze either. Lentils and mung beans were amongst our first cultivated crops. How to cook them and make them deliciously digestible is ingrained in our cultures and traditions. So many cuisines have the humble bean or lentil at the heart of it already.
Plant-based eating includes vegans who eat no animal products at all.
Vegetarians who may eat dairy and eggs and flexitarians who are vegan most of the time but eat meat, fish and dairy occasionally.
It doesn’t have to be black and white. Lots of people start having one plant-based day a week or try it for a week. The criteria are to aim to reduce animal products by about three quarters to 10% of our diet so we are 80 to 90% on plant-based foods.
Avoiding or cutting back on meat, fish and dairy in this way is the single most effective way to reduce your environmental impact. Far bigger than cutting down on flights or buying an electric car. Deforestation and habitat loss are primarily due to agriculture and the demand for animal products. It is also a major contribution to carbon emissions and water pollution.
Our own inner ecology also benefits too! A generation ago we thought we needed meat, but now it is clear that you can be healthier eating less or by going vegan. A balanced plant-based diet with pulses, grains, fruits and vegetables can reduce obesity. You can actually eat more and weigh less!
This food is incredibly cheap too. There’s a misconception that healthy plant-based food is expensive. That only the middle-class or rich people can afford it. That people on low incomes have no choice but to eat the cheapest and processed foods from discount supermarkets.
Healthy diets based on pulses, grains and vegetables are very cheap. Lentils, rice and split peas can cost as little as 50p or £1 a kilo. When cooked both expand and double or triple in mass making the real cost less than 50p. The other main ingredients are seasonal vegetables which are also a great value at around £1 or £2 per kilo. We have calculated that these meals work out at about 50p a portion which is cheaper than processed foods like burgers and frozen chips which cost at least £1 a meal. Takeaway food is more like £3 to £5 a person. So this hearty home cooking can save you a packet.
The other reason to eat more vegan is to reduce animal suffering. No one likes intensive animal farms so this is a great way of avoiding it. Even free-range animals have to killed to produce meat, so lots of people want to take themselves out of that food chain.
To help you get started I have produced a 7-day meal plan with healthy easy to prepare plant-based meals on KeithonFood.com.