The Rise of Plant-Based Eating

Illustration by Drew Buchanan

Lauren Luna
Staff Writer

For the past decade, plant-based eating has steadily gained popularity with the public. From Alicia Silverstone to Jay Leto, many celebrities have even adopted the lifestyle, whether it be for ethical, environmental, or health-based reasons. 

But, not all approaches to plant-based eating are the same. Pescetarianism, for example, still includes fish and other types of seafood. Ovo-lacto vegetarians, who won’t consume any meat or fish, still consume dairy and eggs. Vegans, on the other hand, reject animal products altogether, getting all of their nutrition from fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and seeds.

The plant-based track may seem limited at first glance, yet more and more options within the diet are becoming available. The Impossible Burger, for instance, is a meatless burger patty made with a special protein called heme, which almost perfectly replicates the taste of beef. 

Vegan ice cream, donuts, and pizza are on the rise, and believe it or not, some of our favorite guilty-pleasure snacks, including Sour Patch Kids and Pringles, are completely vegan, even if by accident. 

One of the biggest incentives for adopting a plant-based lifestyle are the environmental concerns surrounding animal agriculture. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of carbon dioxide emissions, and over 660 gallons of water go into the process of making one hamburger

With the increasing threat of global warming and the water crisis in California, many have ditched meat as a favor for the future. 

People have also turned towards plant-based foods for ethical concerns. Living conditions and treatment of livestock, as shown by documentaries including “What the Health,” “Cowspiracy,” and “Food, Inc.” are enough for some to shift their habits. 

Health concerns have also provided people with reason to change. Plant-based foods typically have lower sodium levels and fatty acids than their animal-based counterparts, and cholesterol is completely absent. Studies estimate that these boons may indicate lower risk for heart disease and cancer among vegetarians and vegans

While these reasons on their own are convincing, the world of plant-based living is not entirely simple. Restaurants have yet to offer more food to cater to the plant-based masses, and exclusively vegan food is not always accessible.

Some argue that the lifestyle is simply too expensive, which is true when buying only specialized vegan foods from brands like Gardein or Beyond Meat. In fact, when buying the right items in more efficient ways (buying in bulk is a sustainable option), plant-based eating can be even less expensive than a regular diet. 

The “standard” American diet thrives upon an abundance of heavy foods, especially meats and fats. For this reason, many Americans worry about the content of a plant-based diet; they may contend that plant-based eating leads to deficiencies in certain nutrients. Almost everyone is familiar with the preemptive question — “What about the protein?” While animal products are excellent sources of protein, they aren’t the only sources around; legumes, beans, and even certain grains are chock-full of the beloved macromolecule. 

Even vegan athletes, like Venus Williams or Colin Kaepernick, testify to the success of the plant-based lifestyle.

For others, the availability of exclusively plant-based foods is the greatest struggle, especially for teens who live with their parents and cannot buy their own groceries. Some come from families where meat is a key part of their cuisine, and some live in places where plant-based foods aren’t even an option.

In cases like these, the best thing one can do is simply what they can. Even by not eating red meat one day a week, someone can make a difference.