By Alison Rabschnuk, Director of Corporate Engagement, The Good Food Institute

We all want to do our part—even if it’s a small part—to make this world a better place. Maybe you’re worried about the impact plastic is having on the environment, and you’ve started buying in bulk and have banned zip-close bags in your household. Or perhaps you’re committed to reducing your carbon footprint by biking to work a few days a week and carpooling on days when you can’t. Whatever your passion, you’re taking steps to make a real difference.

Want to up the ante even more, without spending additional time or energy on your cause? How about trying out a plant-based diet? As a matter of fact, every time you choose to eat a plant-based meal, you’re making a positive impact that has wide-sweeping benefits. Here are five reasons a plant-based diet is the best way to eat:

Reason No. 1: It’ll transform your health.

An abundance of scientific evidence shows that following a plant-based diet is associated with a reduced risk of developing deadly diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and even certain cancers. Not only that, but plant-based eating also reduces your exposure to antibiotic resistance. The widespread use of antibiotics on factory farms is leading to antibiotic-resistant superbugs that already kill half a million people a year. By 2050, it’s estimated that these superbugs will make it so that simple bacterial infections won’t be treatable—and will cost the world $100 trillion. In fact, a recent review by the UK government found that the threat to the human race from deadly new drug-resistant strains of diseases is “more certain” than the threat of climate change. One simple way we can all do our part in stopping this scary trend is to stop eating meat. Every time we choose to eat a plant-based meal, we’re making a positive impact!

Reason No. 2: It’s a concrete step you can take to do your part to fight climate change.

Most people think about their car when considering their carbon footprint. But raising and slaughtering animals for food causes more climate change than every plane, train, and automobile combined. That’s right: producing meat releases more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. Chatham House—the most widely-cited think tank in Europe—declared that governments will be unsuccessful in holding climate change to less than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 unless their populations consume less meat.

Reason No. 3: It’s the best way to fight global poverty.

Feeding crops to animals and then eating only part of the animal, like most meat-eaters do, is vastly inefficient—and ultimately drives up the price of grains and legumes around the world. Think about it this way: it takes 9 calories of food fed to a chicken to get 1 calorie back out of that chicken in the form of animal flesh. Considering that by 2050, we will have a whopping 10 billion people in the world to feed, we won’t be able to do it with a system as inefficient as animal agriculture. Eating a plant-based diet now will help drive the demand for more plant-based products and fewer meat-based ones, setting the stage for a more sustainable way of eating for generations to come.

Reason No. 4: It’s the best way to prevent marine life destruction, deforestation, and other environmental degradation.

We do a lot of damage to our precious Earth in the name of eating meat. Our world’s oceans are taking one of the biggest hits: upwards of 63 billion fish caught globally every year are thrown out, prompting many scientists to say that we’ll likely see fishless oceans by the year 2048. What’s more, animal agriculture waste that runs off into our waters is causing “dead zones,” low-oxygen areas of the world’s oceans and large lakes that make it uninhabitable by sea life. When it comes to our world’s oxygen-producing forests, meat-based diets are having a negative impact there, too. A whopping 91% of Amazon destruction is happening for grazing livestock and growing feed for them.

All of this (and more) has led United Nations’ scientists to state that raising and killing animals for food is “one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.” Plant-based and clean meat alternatives are far less polluting and far less wasteful.

Reason No. 5: It’s the right thing to do when it comes to animal welfare.

Our current means of producing animal products forces thinking, feeling individuals to experience extreme confinement, emotional trauma, painful mutilations, and violent deaths. Take pigs, for example, who are often thrown into something called “gestation crates,” where they are artificially inseminated and caged for their entire pregnancy, with just enough room for their bodies. Or consider cows, whose calves are often taken away from them within a day of birth—a process that not only causes immense emotional stress, but also deprives the newborn of its mother’s nutritious milk.

For anyone who doesn’t believe that animals on both land and sea are deeply affected by inhumane treatment, consider Jonathan Balcombe’s work. Balcombe serves as the director of animal sentience for the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy and in his new book, What A Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins, he presents evidence that sea animals have a conscious awareness that allows them to experience pain, recognize individual humans, and even have a memory. If this is true of fish, wouldn’t it be true of other animals, too? And wouldn’t this information inspire you to think twice before eating anything other than plant-based foods?

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