“Making the transition to a plant-based diet may well be the most effective way an individual can stop climate change.” – Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

According to a 2016 study from the University of Oxford, our typical greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent by adopting a vegan diet, and by 63% for a vegetarian diet (including cheese, milk, and eggs). According to the UN/FAO report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, about a fifth of all human-produced greenhouse gases come from raising livestock for meat, dairy and eggs. Some UN agencies estimate roughly half of all emissions come from raising livestock, when including factors such as livestock breathing, land use for livestock grazing, land use for growing food for animals, and emission from cooking, storage, waste disposal and packaging. Cows generate methane as they digest their food, and methane is a very potent greenhouse gas (roughly 30x more potent than CO2). Did you know that a quarter of land worldwide is used for livestock grazing?

Green smoothies made with spinach, bananas, blueberries and flax seed give kids all the energy they need.

Here are a few of the benefits of adopting a plant-rich diet:

Reduced Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint of a vegetarian diet is about half of a meat-lover’s diet.

A typical vegetarian kids meal: chickpea curry, brown rice, avocado and oranges.

Affordable Food Choices

The US government provides subsidies to livestock growers and meat producers, and you may be surprised to learn that a $5 Big Mac would cost $13 if the retail price included the hidden expenses including the bills for healthcare, subsidies, and environmental damage. Additionally, the USDA’s dairy checkoff program uses tax dollars to promote milk and cheese by partnering with fast food companies (remember the invention of “stuffed crust pizza”?). These checkoff programs are responsible for popular ads such as “Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner” and “Milk – It Does A Body Good”.

Even accounting for the subsidized costs of meat and dairy, the cost per pound for vegetarian protein sources is a fraction of the price of meats. For example, dried beans and lentils cost around $1 per pound, while ground beef can cost roughly $3 per pound. Think about that the next time you’re building your burrito.

Nuts are a great protein-packed plant-based snack.

The Protein Myth

A typical adult needs roughly 50 grams of protein each day. Some ways to reach this amount on a vegetarian diet include:

  • 1 cup cooked lentils (18 g) – good in sloppy joes, tacos, burritos
  • 1/2 cup tofu (10 g)
  • 1 cup peas (8 g) – great on their own or mixed into a pasta or casserole
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa (8 g) – use just like rice
  • 1/2 cup cooked beans (8 g)
  • 1/4 cup nuts (7 g)
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter (7 g)
  • 1 cup spinach (5 g) – great in a green smoothie!

In addition to protein, these vegetarian foods include important vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy.

This vegetarian kid can climb 793 feet in elevation to the top of that volcanic plateau (Lower Table Rock).

So What Can We Eat Instead?

Some popular vegetarian food substitutes include:

  • Replacing ground beef with cooked lentils or beans in tacos, burritos, sloppy joes and spaghetti sauce
  • Making veggie burgers using a simple recipe like this
  • Substituting chickpeas for diced chicken in recipes like curry, soups, casseroles and pot pies
  • Using tofu in place of chicken breasts for fancier recipes

Powered by Plants – Vegetarian diets provide more than enough protein to build muscles for growing kids.

What About Dining Out?

Many restaurants and fast-food establishments offer plant-based options – here are a few of our favorites:

  • Chipotle – the “Sofritas” option is made from tofu
  • Panera Bread – the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich, Black Bean Soup, and Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa
  • Cheesecake Factory – the Vegan Cobb Salad is healthy and filling
  • Starbucks – the Blueberry Oatmeal is a great alternative to a typical breakfast sandwich

When you’re ordering your next sandwich for lunch, keep in mind that the World Health Organization recently classified processed meat as a known human carcinogen.

This vegetarian kid is strong enough to pull her own sled.

Actions You Can Take Today:

Related LEED® v4 Credits:

  • LEED BD+C, SSc Open Space (1 pt)
  • LEED EBOM, MRp Ongoing Purchasing and Waste Policy (prerequisite)
  • LEED EBOM, MRc Purchasing – Ongoing (1 pt)
  • Pilot Credit: Local Food Production (1 pt)