In a world where flooding and disaster make daily headlines, sometimes it's hard to have hope. It can be tough to imagine a world where everyone is fed wholesome, nutritious meals, where our eating practices align with our values toward animals, and our footprint on the planet is light. That world doesn't have to be a dream. As stated on their website, Food Day, which was celebrated on Oct. 24, "inspires Americans to change their diets and our food policies" by focusing on healthier, sustainable food practices. This year's focus, Toward a Greener Diet, encourages each of us to adopt healthier, earth-friendly and more humane food practices. And that means eating more plant-based foods.
Increasingly people recognize that eating more meatless meals is good for our health. Kaiser Permanente recommends that physicians treating patients suffering from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity to encourage a plant-based diet. Organizations from the American Heart Association to the American Institute for Cancer Research are touting the benefits of eating more plants and less animal products for our hearts and to combat certain cancers.
It turns out that what's good for our health is also good for the health of the planet. Animal agribusiness is resource intensive, requiring vast amounts of land, water, fertilizer and fossil fuels, significantly more than is required to grow plant-based foods. The agribusiness industry is one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, which may be why Environmental Defense writes:
"If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains ... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of US roads."
Of course enjoying more meat-free meals also helps spare animals from factory farms and slaughterhouses. While the vast majority of Americans care about the humane treatment of animals and want all animals - including those raised for food - to be treated humanely, the reality is most of them are raised in cruel and inhumane conditions that are illegal in some states.
But it doesn't have to be that way. At The Humane Society of the US, we advocate for compassionate eating - or the three Rs: "reducing" or "replacing" consumption of animal products, and "refining" our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.
Greening our meals and doing our part is as simple as opting for a bean burrito instead of chicken nuggets or a vegetable lo mein over pork fried rice. Eating fewer animals and more delicious plant-based meals can make such a big impact on the world. We can make a lasting impact starting this Food Day by joining millions of others on a journey that will last throughout the year and beyond.
Kristie Middleton is the senior director of Food Policy for the Humane Society of the US.