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The Swap Shop: Replacing Meats With Vegan, Earth-Friendly Alternatives

The Vegan Society’s Plate Up for the Planet campaign encourages consumers to make their diet more environmentally conscious, one swap at a time.

Posted on November 6, 2022

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Above: Swapping ground beef for a meat alternative like Pulled Oats drastically reduces carbon footprint.

The Vegan Society recently pointed to some interesting research from the University of Oxford: Moving from current diets to diets without animal products globally would mean a 28% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of the economy. To help move us toward this shift, The Vegan Society relaunched its Plate Up for the Planet campaign, which aims to help people make changes to their diet one step at a time (since research also shows that many of those open to considering a vegan diet said they don’t know where to start).

It doesn’t have to be a confusing process to start eating smarter and safer for the planet by making animal-free food choices. Swapping out things like milk or chicken allows for experimentation and leads to gradual and long-term dietary changes. The Vegan Society put together a few of its top vegan swaps (with help from food footprint consultant Foodsteps) to inspire some ideas.

Ground Beef/Sausage ===> Lentils

Spaghetti Bolognese is an Italian classic, but you can replace the ground beef or sausage with protein-packed, healthy lentils for a simple, affordable and nutritious take on non-vegan classic dishes. Compared to beef, per portion, lentils contribute approximately 0.011kg of carbon dioxide equivalents, while beef comes in at 4.83kg—so this one switch would save more than 400 times the emissions!

Beef has a particularly heavy-duty impact on the environment due to the land needed for grazing and to produce beef—not to mention increased water use and methane emissions, which, while shorter-lived than carbon dioxide, has 28 times the impact on atmospheric temperature.

Chicken ===> Tempeh

If chicken is your protein go-to, try swapping it for tempeh. This replacement is made from fermented soybeans pressed into a block to create a textured, high-protein staple that’s packed full of B vitamins, calcium and iron. Environmentally speaking, tempeh clocks up 0.16kg of CO2 equivalent per serving, compared to chicken’s 1.17kg total.

Globally, poultry produces 790 million tons per year of CO2 equivalents, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. This is mainly because of manure storage, handling and management, as well as animal feed cultivation.

Dairy Milk ===> Oat or Soya Alternatives

Plant-based milks have stormed the market in recent years, with a dizzying array of options from which to choose. Oat is among the least environmentally damaging, while soya packs a decent protein punch. Most types of plant milk are fortified with essential nutrients, including B12 and calcium, so consumers don’t miss out on nutrition.

Both oat and soya require just a fraction of land and water to grow, with the carbon dioxide equivalent of a standard serving weighing in at 0.15kg for oat and 0.21kg for soy—compared to 0.54kg for a serving of dairy milk.

Beef Burger ===> Vegan Burger

For those who need an old-fashioned burger, so many vegan alternatives now taste just as good as a beef burger, and are a snap to prepare for an easy dinner swap. The vegan burger’s footprint is calculated at 0.35kg CO2 equivalent, compared to the beef burger’s whopping 9.93kg contribution.

Step by Step

“Following an environmentally friendly diet is a lot easier than many people expect, especially when it's broken down into small steps,” notes Hannah Coyne, The Vegan Society's campaign manager. “By following our campaign tips, ideas and recipes, swaps like these will become second nature and, ultimately, an easy, tasty and affordable way to minimize your carbon footprint."

Hopefully, these top swaps have inspired you to take the first step on your plant-based journey. For further inspiration, you can download The Vegan Society’s free ebook, which includes simple recipes, eco-friendly product swaps, info on growing your own fruits and vegetables, and other tips to make the transition to healthier eating even easier.

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