The case for a plant-based diet

We can make healthier choices for us and the environment, but it means eating less meat

From Emirati dishes to diverse international cuisines, meat is the basis of many diets. But this fact comes at a cost to the environment and, perhaps, our health. According to the annual report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), we consume an average of 73.2kg of meat per year, ranking this country among the highest consumers of meat globally.

As The National reported yesterday, research by the FAO shows that eating a cheeseburger could be more damaging to the environment than driving to work each day. This is because the average emissions needed to produce one kilogram of beef is 46.2kg of carbon dioxide. These statistics are striking because they show how our diet has a direct effect on our environment. While we might think of meat as a central component of our diet, this has not always been the case – largely because of its expense. Even today, millions of people around the world consume only minimal amounts of meat. To be clear, we are not advocating a meat-free diet, rather a less meat-centric diet. In fact, the UAE is particularly blessed with an incredible variety of flavourful and complex plant-based foods available in restaurants and wholefood stores. Many of these have been brought here because of its current and historic position at the centre of global commerce.

There are many sources of complex dietary advice, but the best advice might just be the most intuitive. As the American food author Michael Pollan, who spoke at NYU Abu Dhabi in November, laid out in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, the ideal diet can be summed up in three sentences: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

By following this advice, we should strive to cut out heavily processed foods, eat only in moderate amounts, and, perhaps most importantly, we should avoid eating too much meat. While meat is a vital source of protein, its consumption is also linked to many chronic illnesses. By eating it selectively, we can pursue our healthy living targets while also helping to save the planet.