Happy New Year! As most of us do, the start of a new year usually brings resolutions for making positive changes in one’s life. Changes that relate to diet, exercise, discovering a new hobby. This year, when making your 2022 resolutions, consider including one of eating more plant-based meals in your diet.
Last October, we initiated a series of stories from GTN employees who have prioritized sustainability by altering their lifestyles and adopting climate-focused habits. Katie Burg kicked off this series with her personal green journey – Making Lifestyle Changes to Combat Climate Change. Our second sustainable story comes from Natalie Stine, a Manager located in Maple Grove, MN. Natalie began her green journey during the COVID-19 pandemic when her frustration with information about the pandemic grew, and she started seeking out knowledge about the current state of our abused planet.
You will be hard pressed to find someone whose life hasn’t been drastically changed over the past 20 months due to the global pandemic. While we continued to search for creative ways to maintain our “normal” day-to-day responsibilities within a myriad of barriers, we also found our eyes opened to the many cracks in our way of life. Many of us found ourselves with more agency than ever to speak up and call out for change. For some, this was enhanced by the increase in something so simple: time. Massive layoffs in 2020, slow rehiring in 2021, and encouragement to stay home provided Americans with time to reflect and see environmental and social injustices more plainly. We found ourselves pleading with our friends, neighbors, and family members to listen to science.
In 2020, as my social life dwindled and my frustration with information about the pandemic grew, I began to lean into research and documentaries. My hunger for knowledge intensified and soon I was learning about the current state of our abused planet.
Recycle. Ride your bike. Avoid plastic bags. Cut your shower time. All of these are instilled in us at a young age to help make a difference and keep our planet healthy. Although these are great ways for everyone to live more sustainably, I was looking to take it a step further. Due to the urgent state of climate change, what could I do on a personal level that would have a larger impact? There must be a more effective way to alleviate our environmental footprint and steer the country to more impactful policy changes. It was during this time I discovered that a single pound of beef takes, on average, 1,800 gallons of water to produce. Upon discovering this climate change culprit, my lightbulb moment occurred as I realized I was able to have a direct impact on carbon emissions by altering my diet.
On a global scale, second after fossil fuels, animal agriculture has a devastating toll on the environment by increasing global warming and damaging ecosystems (EPA). Greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide stay in the atmosphere and cause a warming effect. Their impact can last generations as they can reside in the atmosphere for hundreds of years once released. Each of these gas emissions are emitted from livestock and agriculture practices (EPA).
But what could I do regarding animal agriculture? The answer was simple—I could adopt a plant-based diet. I first made the decision to incorporate three plant-based meals a week on August 1, 2020. By August 10, I decided to completely forgo poultry, beef, and pork. I am not going to lie; the first few weeks were difficult. Since I wasn’t quite sure how to do it yet, I was hungry all the time and in turn quite irritable. Eventually I recognized the need for larger portion sizes, choosing foods high in protein and fiber, and a stocked pantry of healthy snacks like pretzels and nuts.
By the third week everything changed. I had finally mastered the portions and diversified my meals to obtain the necessary nutrients. My digestion improved in a way I didn’t know was possible. I felt energized and frankly, happy. My nights were filled with chopping vegetables, experimenting with different legumes, and learning to use new staples, such as tahini and nutritional yeast. My cravings changed. My usual reach for coffee in the morning and chocolate after dinner declined dramatically. I crammed my weekends with cooking shows. Social media platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok, were my first recipe resources and guided my makeshift cooking classes, using videos created by passionate chefs. Eventually I expanded my repertoire with plant-based recipe websites and books.
It wasn’t (and still isn’t) always easy. Navigating restaurant menus and potlucks can sometimes be difficult. I must work hard to educate myself on all the nutrients I need, a feat necessary even if on a meat-based diet. Yet, I am grateful I have the time, energy, and resources to support this dietary change. And even if the threat of climate change and damaging impacts to the environment were gone, I don’t know if I would return to a meat-heavy diet. For me, it feels like I’ve hit a home run. My health has improved, and I am minimizing my carbon footprint all in one act. We only get one planet and one body; let's treat them right.
I understand not everyone will or can go plant-based, nor do I think we all need to. My hope is that enough people will decrease their meat consumption as this will dramatically reduce emissions and slow demand. Even replacing your beef intake with chicken will help immensely. We need to communicate to our elected leaders that change is needed in how we feed our country and the world. We need to stop destroying ecosystems; the survival of all beings depends on biodiversity.
The transformation our world needs is overwhelming—it’s easy to feel helpless in this massive problem we’ve created. It’s hard to truly feel heard. I’ve wondered if this is how climate scientists from the last 50 years have felt as they watched our world become sicker while our governments and corporations stood idly by. Despite this, I know hope is on the horizon—one voice can reach many.
- A More Sustainable Path to 2050 – The Nature Conservancy
- Plant-based recipes – Rabbitandwolves.com
- Plant-based recipes – Loveandlemons.com
- Plant-based tag on Instagram will bring up a variety of useful resources
- Before the Flood – Disney
- Cowspiracy – Netflix
- Game Changers – Netflix
- Gather – Netflix
- How to Save a Planet – Podcast
- Kiss the Ground – Netflix
Giampiero Grossi, Pietro Goglio, Andrea Vitali, Adrian G Williams, Livestock and climate change: impact of livestock on climate and mitigation strategies, Animal Frontiers, Volume 9, Issue 1, January 2019, Pages 69–76, https://doi.org/10.1093/af/vfy034
EPA. “Climate Change Indicators: Greenhouse Gases.” EPA: United States Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov
Making sustainable changes takes time, but you can start small and build from there. By being aware and incorporating eco-friendly practices into our daily lives, we can all play a part in tackling the climate crisis. You can begin by making just one small change. The new year is a great time to start!