By Claire DaQuino
“Plants don’t provide enough protein!”criticizers of vegan and vegetarian diets often misconstrue. My mom reminds me of this all the time with her constant barrages of “where is the protein?” and “plants can’t give you energy!”
However, many plants provide close to the same amount, if not more protein than animal products. Better yet, they come at nowhere near the same amount of harm to the environment. For instance, one cup of tofu yields 20 grams of protein, similar to the 38 grams provided by one cup of chicken. While tofu does have slightly less protein, the lesser carbon footprint makes this worth it. Per 100 grams of tofu, about 2 kilos of CO2 are emitted; with the production of 100 grams of chicken comes about 7 kilos of CO2. Similarly, a Beyond Burger, a popular type of veggie burger, contains 20 grams of protein—exactly the same amount as a beef patty. To produce one beef burger takes about 6 kilos of CO2, while one Beyond Burger emits only 0.68 kilos of CO2. CO2 is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect, which traps heat, causing global warming.
While these stats are important to take into account, they can be easy to overlook when chicken and beef appear to be the quickest, cheapest, and most accessible sources of protein. Furthermore, meat eaters often deem vegetarian protein sources less flavorful than animal-based ones. Once again, this myth proves false: over the past few years, I have been doing my best to cut down my meat consumption and have learned from personal experience that many plant-based products, when seasoned correctly, can taste better than meat. Tofu, especially, soaks up the flavor of any spices and sauces used as marinades and can be thrown in the oven for 20 minutes for a great addition to meals. Below is a list of my favorite affordable and tasty plant-based protein sources (not including the previously mentioned tofu and plant-based meat). Incorporating just a few of these items into your diet can significantly reduce your carbon footprint, so I encourage you to stay mindful of your consumption and keep this list in mind if you are looking to make some easy swaps.
- Black beans—16 grams of protein in 1 cup; 2 kilos of CO2
- Lentils—18 grams of protein in 1 cup; 0.9 kilos of CO2
- Nuts—27 grams of protein in 1 cup; 2.3 kilos of CO2
- Broccoli—2.5 grams of protein in 1 cup; 2 kilos of CO2
- Garbanzo beans—39 grams of protein in 1 cup; 2 kilos of CO2
- Tempeh—31 grams of protein in 1 cup; 0.67 kilos of CO2