By Catherine Faver and Tina Schiefelbein, International Award of Excellence Recipients, Food Studies, Volume 3
In light of the many health benefits of plant-based diets, this study aimed to enhance students’ well-being by increasing their daily consumption of whole plant foods. At the same time, the study was motivated by concern about the broader impact of food choices on the planet and all its inhabitants. A large body of research has documented the negative environmental effects of animal-based diets. Livestock agriculture is a major contributor to the world’s worst environmental problems, including land degradation, deforestation, water pollution and scarcity, species extinction, and greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. The world’s growing population cannot be fed on an animal-based diet, which requires more resources than the earth can provide. Tragically, the livestock industry inflicts intense suffering on animals and creates public health risks and safety hazards. (For a summary of the environmental, public health, global food system and animal welfare impacts of industrial agriculture, see Hicks 2011 and www.cowspiracy.com/facts).
Given the sharp contrast between animal-based and plant-based diets, plant-based eating is clearly a better choice. Yet tremendous social forces are marshaled against making this choice. Major industries benefit financially from maintaining the dietary status quo in the United States and promoting animal-based foods globally. Animal-based foods are inexpensive and easily accessible. Since choices are shaped by factors in the social environment, in this study we tried to create a supportive environment to help students choose plant-based foods. We also explored the challenges that students encountered as they implemented changes in their daily consumption patterns. The students’ experiences were a sharp reminder that community-based interventions and policy changes are needed to encourage large-scale choice of plant-based foods. Nevertheless, programs to support plant-based eating can have positive effects. We hope our study will encourage others to develop programs to support and encourage plant-based diets, thereby fostering the well-being of individuals and society.
Hicks, J. Morris, and J. Stanfield Hicks. 2011. Healthy Eating Healthy World. Dallas: Benbella Books.