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Veg for vitality – human and planetary


EARTHY GOODNESS Eating more vegetables and less meat and dairy is good for you, and for the Earth.

Nature and Rewilding

Pat Fahy

New Year, new lifestyle, new you. Eat better, move more, learn how to relax. Seven is the magic number for changing a behaviour, scientists say. If your significant other hasn’t told you seven times that you need to change something, then you can tell them they need to increase their efforts for better effect. Meanwhile, count to seven yourself and all will be right in the universe again.
A person could fill an encyclopaedia never mind a book with all the information on health, nutrition, fitness and wellbeing that does the rounds every January, one often more daft than the other. See how long you’ll last on ridiculous fads like the cabbage-soup diet.
The diets and eating regimes that are being rolled out now will get the chatterati talking, sharing and trending, but ultimately the most sustainable solution for you and the planet is to eat more vegetables, some fruit, nuts and olive oil, oily fish like sardines and mackerel, and heart-healthy dark chocolate.
The Mediterranean diet in other words. The diet of people for whom meat was a luxury, forcing them to get creative with plant-based foods available to them. First written about in the ’60s, it’s tried and tested and as old as the hills, and it is associated with a reduction in all-cause mortality (any cause of death) in observational studies.
Getting people to eat less meat and dairy cheese doesn’t mean we wish the livestock farmers to lose their livelihood. There needs to be system change for a just transition that allows us to work together for all our futures.
Not enough people consider that they can help the planet without even getting out of their pyjamas; it’s as easy as swapping one thing for another for a better you. Maybe swap highly processed foods that use up a lot of fossil fuels for bananas and peanuts, or swap bacon for macadamia nuts, sweets with their empty calories for fruit, dairy cheese for vegan cheese, and so on. Sardines have a tiny carbon footprint compared to any fish you can mention.
Dairy cheese, unfortunately, is the third worst for carbon footprint, according to a study by the US-based Environmental Working Group and environmental firm CleanMetrics Corp. Thankfully, vegan cheese is a tasty alternative, and uber valuable in that it doesn’t cost the planet. Veggie curries and stir fries are also delicious ways to get in more nutritious vegetables.
If you’re buying vegetables try to buy Irish. There are only 160 vegetable farms left in Ireland, an endangered species if ever I saw one. The Beast from the East in 2018 closed many of our ports and it wasn’t long before the shelves emptied. Everyone remembers the ‘bread crisis’ – you wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the panic over bread. It’s home-grown veg we should be panicking about!
The year 2020 is shaping up to be a big one for our planet. We need everyone doing that little thing that adds up to a mighty change, and we need our governments to sign on to real actions for climate change. When the history is written and the world is on fire, many will wonder why our governments asked ‘Will a cup of water sort it, or would half a cup do?’.
Mind yourself, mind your body, support our planet, support our farmers. Sustainability isn’t just a catchy word, it’s a way of living that we all need to embrace if we’re ever going to do ourselves a favour, not just for ourselves but also for future generations. We owe them that much at least.

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.