Umbelino: Embrace plant-based foods for a more sustainable NU

Gustavo Umbelino, Op-Ed Contributor

For Earth Day 2021, we must “Restore Our Earth.” After over a year of living in a devastating global pandemic, which has called into question our reliance on factory-farmed meat, it’s time to consider how the food on our plate can pave the way for a brighter future for ourselves and our planet. As students at Northwestern, our voices can impact the food policies around us. 

It’s no secret that industrial animal agriculture places one of the largest burdens on Earth relative to almost any other form of human activity. Almost 27 percent of all habitable land is dedicated to livestock, while meat and dairy only provide 18 percent of the world’s caloric intake.  

Fortunately, we don’t have to start from scratch to change our status quo. Colleges and subdivisions like the Huxley College of the Environment and the Harvard Office for Sustainability, as well as dozens of leading environmental groups, have begun embracing plant-based foods as their new default. American shoppers have also changed course over the last decade: 2012 to 2018 saw a 287 percent increase in products with plant-based labels in response to surging demand. For Earth Day, even massive chains like Starbucks are nudging customers toward sustainable plant-based drinks.

Earth Day 2021 offers colleges and universities — who have an influence in our society — a unique opportunity to embrace a new normal. Here at Northwestern, let’s be leaders in sustainability by aligning our everyday food choices and values with a new, plant-based default.

Gustavo Umbelino is a Northwestern PhD student. Umbelino can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.