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Plant-based eating: creating a healthy planet through healthy diets

Updated: Nov 4, 2019

Food sustains life and is readily available in most parts of the world today. Yet major challenges lie ahead. Not only is the global population expected to increase by around two billion people by 2050, but climate change could well reduce the land available for food production.

Plant-based diets: a necessary shift

Discussing the foods we eat and how we grow them is therefore increasingly important.

“Such a conversation is not just about food security”, says April Redmond, Global VP at Knorr, one of our biggest brands. “The nutritious value of future savoury foods is critical as well. Our ambition is to make it easier for people to eat a wide variety of foods that are good for us, good for the planet and, of course, delicious at the same time.”

Many ways exist to meet this goal, but to diversify our diets sustainably will mean consuming more savoury plant-based foods and less meat.

Why? Land, for one. Hectare by hectare, growing plants is significantly more efficient than meat production. Just 18% of all the calories we consume and 37% of all protein comes from meat and dairy, respectively, yet between them they occupy 83% of global farmland.

There are also the benefits for human health to consider. Plant-based foods – such as pulses, wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices – can provide all the nutrients we need to live active, healthy lives.

Plant-based foods: tasty and timely

Worldwide, more and more people are shifting to flexitarian diets – generally understood as largely plant-based with occasional meat. This is a great opportunity for Unilever. We can help people develop healthier diets and together work on a healthier planet, while also growing our business.

We want to work with others to help develop ‘plant-forward foods’, to borrow the phrase of global nutritionists and environmentalists. That’s one of the reasons we recently signed up to the One Planet Business for Biodiversity coalition, which includes a strong focus on plant-based diets.

Yet, we also recognise that if we are going to consume billions of nutritious plant-based meals, then today’s food system needs to change radically.

The most urgent issue is the diversification of food supply. Globally, we rely on a tiny range of foods at present. It’s incredible to think that, while there are more than 20,000 known edible plants on our planet, three-quarters of our diets come from just 12 plant and five animal species.

Changing consumer behaviour is critical. While vegetarian diets dominate in some countries (such as India), meat consumption occupies a central place in most gastronomic cultures. Altering attitudes towards food is no easy task. Yet with education and motivation – plus a large helping of culinary creativity – change is possible.

"The only way to persuade people to part company with meat is if 'meat' from plants is at least as tasty as real meat."

Jaap Korteweg, founder of The Vegetarian Butcher

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