Celebrate Earth Day, conserve water by eating more plants

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Earth Day is April 22. Locally, an Earth Day celebration will be held on that date at Shelter Cove Community Park in Hilton Head.

The event is identified as not just celebrating the environment and conservation, but also healthy eating and living. That's because the two go together. Just as eating a healthy diet is good for the body and the soul, it is also good for the environment.

One of the things that has amazed me, for example, is the amount of water used in producing different foods.

Generally, when we think about conserving water, we think in terms of our own personal usage. We cut our showers short or we water our lawns less frequently.

But those efforts pale in comparison to the amount of water that can be saved through our food choices. And in that regard, plant-based foods tend to use the least amount of water during their growth and production.

According to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), it takes 290 gallons of water to produce one pound of unprocessed oats; comparatively, it takes between 2,000 and 8,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef.

Other foods fall in between those two figures, with plant-based foods coming in at the lower range of water usage. A diet that is mostly plant-based is estimated to use at least half as much water as does the standard Western diet.

Even if everybody just switched to one day of plant-based eating, or swapped just one more plant-based meal into their diets, it would make a significant impact on overall fresh water usage.

In a study conducted at the University of Minnesota and published in the Nov. 12, 2014, edition of Nature magazine, it was estimated that if current trends in dietary habits worldwide continue, it will lead to an 80 percent increase in global greenhouse gas emissions.

This was a broad study that looked at 50 years of data from the world's 100 most populous countries. The study suggests that the best diets for the planet are Mediterranean, pescatarian or vegetarian, all of which are plant-based. A vegan diet is better still.

An excellent book that takes into account food's impact on both our bodies and the planet is "The Greenprint: Plant-Based Diet, Best Body, Better World" by Marco Borges. It's a book that shows its readers how to "transform their bodies, optimize their health and improve the planet."

This Earth Day is a good time for us to take stock of our food choices and to resolve to eat more plant-based foods. We don't just owe it to ourselves to do this; we owe it to the planet.

Earth Day is a great time to make that commitment.

J Lanning Smith is a local freelance writer focused on healthy lifestyles.

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