2021 Goals: Diversity is the Name of the Plant-Based Game

How many different ways have you come up with to serve Brussels sprouts? Carrots? Broccoli? Peas? Kale?

At some stage, it can feel like we’re getting cosmetic with our vegetables, and there are only so many possible ways to get excited about a smokey eye and a layered haircut. 

How can we turn 15-20 vegetables into an exciting, nutritious rotation for 30-40 years worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners?

It’s a formidable question – enough so that studies have been conducted to figure out if our problems are the same problems our ancestors contended with. And the answer is, unsurprisingly, no.

Local varieties of plants and vegetation have been abandoned over the last century by large-scale farmers in favor of more in-demand produce. A report published by the United Nations quantified the loss of plant diversity as having declined 75%. 

In fact, 75% of the global diet supply is derived from only 12 plant species and five animal species. 

It’s rather incredible, the measurable effects of the global agro-economy over the last 100 years. 

Let’s take a closer look at what we’ve lost…

Cash Crops Bankrupt Other Species

It’s estimated that there are between 250,000 to 300,000 edible plant species, but that we’ve only discovered around 4% of them.

Of that 4%, only 150-200 are planted, harvested, and consumed by humans.

Of that 150-200, three of them make up 60% of the calories and proteins we are able to ingest from plant species.

Can you guess which three?

Rice, maize, and wheat. 

So to take stock of where we are in 2021… 

40% of the plant-based foods we consume represent 4% of the plant species we’ve discovered, and a hundred years ago, we had 75% more diversity in our plant creation and consumption.

The reason for the decline, as identified by the UN report, is multifaceted, but comes down to a few reasons:

  • The rapid globalization of the food market.
  • The genetic erosion (simplifying of genetic code varieties) caused by loss of biodiversity AND loss of demand for complex, commercially less-viable crops.
  • The stifling of small-scale and local farmers who pass down diversified plant-growing knowledge in favor of more saleable crops.
  • And the shift in global perception regarding the optics of plant-based eating. (Read: we like pretty food now, whereas we didn’t necessarily use to care.)

What’s to be made of all this?

And why is it relevant that these changes have happened in the last hundred years or so? How can we interpret this data through the context of other major changes that have come about during the past century?

Changes like…

Increased allergies, the prevalence of autoimmune disorders, diminishing of gut microbiota, the uptick in mental chemical imbalances resulting in poor mental health, and plenty of other issues you’re more than familiar with.

Now that we’re aware of the scope of the problem, it’s time to develop a solution to match its scale.

30 Hit Points per Week

The best way to set a goal is to get as specific as you can.

In order to combat the notable dearth in plant-based produce variety available to us, we have to be intentional about diversifying our consumption.

The first step is to make sure you’re getting your recommended daily doses of plant-based materials.

Roughly, that should be:

  • Two-three servings of fruit
  • Four-five servings of vegetables
  • Three servings of whole grains
  • And one-two servings of legumes, seeds, or nuts

Per week, you should try to hit 30 varieties of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, herbs, and spices. 

That can be achieved any number of ways. 

You can start by making sure there are 30 varieties on your grocery list every week. That way, you’ll know what you have at hand to add to meals – spices and herbs included! 

Top your completed meals with nuts and seeds at the end. 

Challenge yourself to not repeat any of your varieties two weeks in a row. Don’t usually eat cabbage, radishes, beets, or leeks? Find a way to bring them onto your plate!

If you’re a gardener getting started with this season’s seedlings, look up vegetable plants that are native to your area to broaden your palate. 

See how many colors you can count in your dinner meal – aim for more than four! 

The more plant-based species we consume, the more diverse our gut and mouth bacteria becomes and the stronger our immunity grows. We can fight back against monoculture with diversified demands!

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.