Adopting plant-rich diets is one strategy to work towards a racially-just food system as slaughterhouses and CAFOs are disproportionately sited in BIPOC and low-income communities (Nicole, 2013). Slaughterhouse and meat packing plants are COVID19 hotspots, with more than 42,534 meatpacking workers testing positive, and at least 203 meatpacking workers have died of COVID19 in the US (Washington Post, 2020). Additionally, employees are often undocumented immigrants who are harrassed (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2018), exposed to chemicals without protective equipment, and work long hours with no overtime pay (AnimalOutlook, 2018).Slaughter and meat packing facilities are frequently the target of ICE raids that intimidate workers out of speaking up against work and human rights violations (New York Times, 2019; NPR, 2019; NBC News 2018).
Beyond mitigating climate change, plant-rich diets have a myriad of co-benefits like improving personal, public, and planetary health.
Personal Health: The world’s leading medical, nutrition, and sustainability experts are calling for plant-rich diets to reduce malnutrition and improve health outcomes (Willet et al 2019). Healthy and climate-friendly diets are linked! Most foods associated with improved health (like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts), also have small environmental impacts, while foods associated with the greatest disease risks like red meat have some of the largest environmental impacts (Clark et al 2019).
Community Health: Reducing meat production and consumption will reduce the number of deaths from air pollution generated by animal agriculture — approximately 12,700 deaths in the US every year (Domingo et al 2021). Animal agriculture is a significant contributor to five of the seven drivers of pandemics identified by the United Nations Environmental Program, meaning that plant-rich diets help prevent future pandemics (UNEP 2020).
Planetary Health: As our global population continues to grow and become more affluent, adopting plant-rich diets can help reduce demands for new agricultural lands that drive deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the loss of Indigenous land tenure.
Animal-sourced foods generally have higher greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and water use than their plant-based counterparts (Poore and Nemecek, 2018). You can compare the impacts of different foods with this interactive calculator from the BBC.
Food systems (this includes emissions beyond just agricultural production, including activities like food processing, retail, transportation, cooking and refrigeration, and food waste disposal) are currently responsible for ~30% of global greenhouse gases (Crippa et al 2021″).
Even if we completely eliminate emissions from energy and transportation sectors, business-as-usual food systems alone will make limiting global warming to 1.5°C impossible, and 2°C almost unattainable (Clark et al 2020).