Sustainability of plant-based diets: back to the future

Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul:100 Suppl 1:476S-82S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.071522. Epub 2014 Jun 4.


Plant-based diets in comparison to diets rich in animal products are more sustainable because they use many fewer natural resources and are less taxing on the environment. Given the global population explosion and increase in wealth, there is an increased demand for foods of animal origin. Environmental data are rapidly accumulating on the unsustainability of current worldwide food consumption practices that are high in meat and dairy products. Natural nonrenewable resources are becoming scarce, and environmental degradation is rapidly increasing. At the current trends of food consumption and environmental changes, food security and food sustainability are on a collision course. Changing course (to avoid the collision) will require extreme downward shifts in meat and dairy consumption by large segments of the world's population. Other approaches such as food waste reduction and precision agriculture and/or other technological advances have to be simultaneously pursued; however, they are insufficient to make the global food system sustainable. For millennia, meatless diets have been advocated on the basis of values, and large segments of the world population have thrived on plant-based diets. "Going back" to plant-based diets worldwide seems to be a reasonable alternative for a sustainable future. Policies in favor of the global adoption of plant-based diets will simultaneously optimize the food supply, health, environmental, and social justice outcomes for the world's population. Implementing such nutrition policy is perhaps one of the most rational and moral paths for a sustainable future of the human race and other living creatures of the biosphere that we share.

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Diet, Vegetarian*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Food Supply*
  • Humans