In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, we interviewed PBFA advisor Nil Zacharias. Nil is a leading expert in the growing plant-based food industry who has written extensively on the intersection of food and sustainability. He is also the host of the Eat For The Planet podcast, which focuses on how plant-based food companies are creating a more sustainable food system.
Food and its impact on the environment is a hot topic this Earth Day. Can you tell us a bit about this connection?
While food production is incredibly taxing on the environment, industrial animal agriculture puts a huge burden on the planet. Globally, factory farming is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation combined, uses a majority of freshwater stores, and occupies over 50% of the world’s arable land. Our global food system produces enough grain to feed around 11 billion people right now, but because a majority of those crops are being fed to livestock we end up at a deficit and nearly 1 billion people suffer from food scarcity. Our appetite for meat, dairy, and eggs is eating the planet.
The good news is that we can help reduce environmental strain by choosing to replace animal products with delicious plant-based foods.
How are plant-based food companies contributing to the solution?
Generally, plant-based foods have a much lower environmental footprint than animal products. For example, it takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat – that’s enough water to shower for a month all used for about 4 burgers. I should note, the average American consumes over 200 pounds of meat a year – and this is just a single input for meat.
Whether we’re talking about plant-based milks, meats, snacks or desserts, by eliminating animal ingredients, plant-based food companies are essentially skipping one of the most resource intensive and wasteful links in the food chain. Any of these foods are a win for the environment when stacked against foods that are produced at scale using animal ingredients. I’d argue that without plant-based food companies, we have almost no hope of building a resilient food system that can feed the world’s growing population in a sustainable way.
What are some interesting sustainability initiatives plant-based food brands are taking on?
Plant-based food companies are really leading the way in terms of sustainability. Many of these brands “walk the walk” and I’ve talked to several plant-based food companies that are going the extra mile, primarily because they are driven by the mission to build a more sustainable food system. Initiatives being launched by companies range from diversification of ingredients and efforts to sustainability source them. There are also many building zero waste manufacturing facilities, relying on renewable energy sources, using environmentally-friendly packaging materials, all while also supporting environmental charities and trade associations like the PBFA, of course.
What are your top sustainability tips anyone can follow this Earth Day?
This one is simple and perhaps especially relevant given most people will be at home this Earth Day – eat for the planet! You have three or more opportunities every day to do something positive for the Earth by choosing plant-based foods. Simple swaps like choosing a plant-based cheese or mayo can have a positive impact on your environmental footprint – start small and have fun exploring the innovative plant-based foods available on the market!
You can learn more about Nil and his work at eftp.co.