Earth Day Considerations: Transitioning to a More Plant Based Diet

Earth Day Considerations: Transitioning to a More Plant Based Diet

Photo by Viktoria Slowikowska on

Earth Day is Saturday, April 22nd. We all know Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but we don’t always consider the relationship between nutrition and the environment. 

There are many ways to make your diet more sustainable: eliminate food waste, eat local and in season, and buy foods from farms with sustainable practices. One of the important ways is to reduce consumption of animal products. The EPA estimates that 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US are from livestock.1  One study estimates that if the population were to transition toward more plant-based diets aligned with standard dietary guidelines, global mortality could be reduced by 6–10% and food-related greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 29–70% by 2050.2

My intention is not to promote any specific diet–vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, flexitarian, etc.–on anyone here. Everyone’s body is different, we all have different energy needs, and different diets are sustainable for different people. What’s easy and healthy for me might be a nightmare for you and vice versa. What I am encouraging people to mindfully consider is to:

  1. Eat more plants.
  2. Reduce meat and animal products.

That is it.

I won’t ask you to put on your Birkenstocks and hoof it to your nearest food coop or to make homemade granola religiously every weekend. Hippie lifestyle 100% optional.

I feel I should offer one disclaimer: I am not an RD, and this should not be considered to be anything but an anecdotal account of how I learned to balance my diet when I was a vegetarian. I am writing this partly for myself, as my diet has been less than healthy the last couple of years, and I would like to return to how I used to eat. If you are able to work with an RD, I would encourage you to take advantage of that.

Where is your protein?

Everyone who has been vegetarian has some story about how everyone around them becomes an expert on protein once you say that you don’t eat meat.

I must admit one of the biggest adjustments in moving to a more plant-based diet is how you incorporate your protein. This is true whether you are going full vegetarian or simply reducing your meat intake for health, ethical, or environmental reasons. A regular combination found in omnivore meals is protein, starch, and veggie. A turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato. A chicken breast with broccoli and a potato. A soup with chicken, noodles, and veggies. A casserole with animal protein, rice, vegetables, and a cream sauce.

When I went vegetarian cold turkey fifteen or so years ago, my initial impulse was to either leave out the protein altogether or replace it with a faux meat alternative because that was the only way I knew how to eat a vegetarian meal. I’m sure it will surprise no one that I gained weight on my new mac & cheese and veggie burger diet. To find a healthier balance, I had to do two things: 1. Learn to cook, which was something I was illogically terrified of in my late twenties. 2. Learn to microdose protein throughout the day because sitting down to a giant block of tofu at dinner is neither exciting nor appetizing.

Here are some examples of what it might look like to add small amounts of protein throughout the day (includes dairy and eggs):

General Tips:

  • Your carb consumption will inevitably go up a little when you eat less meat, so experimenting with whole grain choices will keep you from eating too many simple carbs. 
  • Use Greek yogurt in place of mayo or sour cream whenever it makes sense to do so.
  • Keep trying new recipes and new ingredients. This will keep you from being bored with your diet. I love Pinterest for finding new meal ideas and I make heavy use of my library card to try out cookbooks before I buy them.
  • Don’t over rely on any one protein source like nuts or eggs. Mix it up and your diet will be healthier.
  • If you have small amounts of random vegetables in your fridge at the end of the week, odds and ends of various recipes, repurpose them in a mixed salad or a stir fry or a soup to eliminate food waste.

The Real Question: Where is Your Iron?

Yes, everyone talks about protein, but honestly, iron intake can be even trickier, especially if one menstruates.

Aim to eat the following:

Slow Is Fine

For those of us who live in the US, we culturally have an issue with all-or-nothing approaches to food (and a lot of other areas of life). We like dramatic transformations and diets that promise that you will drop pounds quickly. And, for this reason, it’s really easy to both be obese and have an eating disorder at the exact same time.

So please don’t go vegan cold turkey. Or do anything cold turkey. The key to a healthy and sustainable diet is to make changes slowly and develop good habits. If you don’t know how to cook a meatless meal that is filling and delicious, commit first to a Meatless Monday. Try that for a month, then make another small change. Every bit helps. And if you never completely give up bacon or burgers, that’s fine. Simply reducing your meat intake will have a positive effect on the environment, even if you keep it strictly to Meatless Monday. Be kind to the earth and be kind to yourself.


Blogs worth checking out include:

Honorary mention: Skinnytaste is not a vegetarian blog, but Gina has many vegetarian recipes

Favorite cookbooks:



1 EPA. Greenhouse Gas Emissions. (Accessed April 18.)

2 Springman M, Godfray HCJ, Rayner M, and Scarborough P. Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change. PNAS. 113(14)4146-51.

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