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Happy Earth Day! Going green is the new chic. The signs are everywhere that the green trend is here to stay. Green businesses are sprouting up all the time, hybrid cars populate our roadways, energy efficient light bulbs illuminate our homes, our documents are printed on recycled paper (100% post consumer of course). It is wonderful that so many are seeking ways to preserve the resources of our precious planet.

For those who are serious about making a positive change this Earth day, I suggest that you look no further than your dinner plate. In fact, one of the most effective ways to conserve and protect our environment has to do with the foods we decide to eat. How can I make such a bold statement?

A United Nations report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow” indicates that livestock production contributes to more greenhouse gasses than the entire world’s transportation industry combined. That’s a lot of gas!

In addition to the Global warming angle, there is a convincing case for adding more plant-based foods to your lifestyle when you consider the following:

  • The environmental impact of a plant-based diet is a fraction of that of a meat-based one. According to Conservation International, the average carbon emissions from an animal product based diet are 11 tons per year per person. The average emissions on a plant-based diet are 6 tons per year.
  • Another interesting tidbit of information is that it takes approximately 3 ½ acres of land and 2500 gallons of water a day to Support an animal product based diet. A plant-based diet utilizes only 1/6 of an acre of land and 300 gallons of water a day.
  • According to the USDA, 1 acre of land can produce 20,000 pounds of vegetables. This same amount of land can only produce 165 pounds of meat

While all of this information may be persuasive on an intellectual level, when it comes to our food choices we are dealing with a primal instinct that is not so easy to change.

Here are ten suggestions for those wishing to include more plant-based foods in their diet as a way to go green this Earth Day.

1. Go slowly. It took years for you to develop your current eating habits. Most people are not willing or able to make radical changes overnight. Many times when people do make drastic changes, they find themselves falling back to old ways when the going gets tough. (Some people are of course ready to go cold Tofurky – only you can decide!)

2. Create a plan. Take a look at where you are at and where you would like to be. You can approach this in several ways. You can commit to having one vegan day a week for a month. (Meatless Mondays, Tofu Tuesdays….) Then go up to two days a week the second month, three days a week on the third month…(you get the idea) until you arrive at your desired outcome. Another way is to have vegan snacks for the first month, vegan snacks and breakfasts for the second month, vegan snacks, breakfasts and lunches the next month and so on. An even more gradual approach would be to have one vegan meal a week for the first month, two vegan meals a week for the second month… Make the changes at a pace you are comfortable with.

3. Choose wisely. Remember the importance of feeling satisfied at every meal. Look for vegan alternatives that come close to the taste and texture of the foods you are craving. There are many plant based products on the market now that can make this a delicious transition for you.

4. Invite a friend. It definitely makes it easier to change your diet and lifestyle if you have some Support. A friend can help with recipe ideas, sharing meal preparation, and of course provide words of encouragement when needed. You can also join a local vegetarian society or find lots of Support online. There are sites with discussion boards on every topic imaginable. Do a search for ‘vegan websites’ and you will be surprised at what you find.

5. Educate yourself. It’s extremely helpful for sticking to your convictions to learn about the full impact our food choices have upon our health and the health of our planet. Check out the following books for starters: Vegan Fusion World Cuisine, Diet for a New America, The China Study, and The World Peace Diet.

6. Consider your health. It is clear that many of today’s major illnesses such as heart disease, obesity and certain forms of diabetes can be avoided and reversed with plant based foods. All health organizations recommend increasing daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables as a way to optimize health.

7. Preserve the planet. The facts are staggering when you compare the environmental impact of a plant-based diet with a meat based one. It takes a fraction of the water, land and other resources to produce a vegan meal. Even Mark Bittman, acclaimed chef and author, goes vegan for most of the day as an effort to conserve the Earths limited resources.

8. Go to the source. Its good to consider where the meal on your plate originated. Think about the farmers that grew the food. What methods do they use? Is the food organically grown? How far away are they and under what conditions was the food shipped? Asking these questions will lead you to a greener, more sustainable lifestyle.

9. Remember Babe. Many do not realize the conditions under which most factory farm animals live. Actor James Cromwell became a vegan while playing the character of Farmer Hoggett in the movie Babe after discovering the reality behind most meat production. Whatever your personal beliefs, its true that we can make food choices that reduce suffering.

10. Take it easy. Please don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself falling back into old ways of eating. Simply accept and acknowledge that it takes time to retrain your body and mind to eat in new ways and remind yourself why you are exerting the effort. Stick to your plan as much as possible and have fun!