Eat more plants for health, compassion & planet

6 min readJan 17, 2024
Sustainable Food Norwich launch — workshop using the Doughnut

Over two years ago I published this post about ‘What Vegans Like to Eat’, listing the benefits of a plant-based diet, what restaurants & others get wrong about plant-based eaters, and lots of ideas on what and how to cook.

Since then I’m not in a family setting any more, having moved to Norwich on my own in June 2022. I’m still eating mostly plants, though not as a strict vegan, and appreciating that Norwich as a community is very eco-minded. There’s an active Vegan Society group, and there’s usually plenty of vegan choice on menus. But, there are some challenges. At least five vegan restaurants or shops have closed in the past year (Little Shop of Vegans, a vegan butcher, a vegan kebab shop, Graze cafe, Erpingham House, maybe more). And, more places are opening with an emphasis on food traditions whether street food or trad British — lots of burgers, chicken, bakeries, old British meat-based cooking and so on. Norwich has had a lot of retail turnover, as more places close due to energy and food prices, and others come in with efficient formulae and an appeal to visitors into the City for its night life rather than coming for functional shopping. Also, there’s a tendency to copy what seems to work. See this Long Read by Kyle Chayka on how cafes are popping up all looking the same, not because they are in chains that force a certain aesthetic or menu but because of a process of cultural globalisation encouraged by digital ‘AirSpace’.

Anyway…I went to a new pub-restaurant called The Weavers, which I really love for its atmosphere, decor and friendliness. But there was literally nothing vegan on the fairly extensive menu apart from chips that are normally fried in dripping, which could be done for us in veg oil. There was one starter and one main that were vegetarian, but cheesy and not convertible to plant-based. It’s not a standard pub but more of a restaurant so the menu matters. Their defence is that it’s a traditional British menu. I posted about this on Facebook and had a huge response.

In my post I said that the idea of a meat & dairy-based diet as traditional is far too simplistic. 200–70 years ago, British people ate a lot of: bread (which was more dense & nutritious than now); onions; pease pudding & pea soup; barley & veg soup or stew; mushrooms; all sorts of beans; porridge and oatmeal; greens, salads and herbs e.g. beetroot, watercress or celery; cabbages; roasted or boiled root vegetables; fruit puddings and pies; jams and jellies; chestnuts, hazelnuts etc etc. They supplemented these with fish, eels, shellfish, offal and game, or eggs and cheese, when they could afford it or forage it if allowed or in season. Some could afford pork or lamb but not often. Beef and chicken were rare. You only ate a chicken when it had stopped laying. There was, of course, too much poverty & malnutrition but in some areas there was good access to a variety of plants.

A recent study from Future Health shows that Norfolk & Waveney is the most malnourished area in the UK (alongside Cornwall). It’s really struggling with poverty and inequality but ultra-processed and meat-and-dairy diets must be a big part of the problem. For too many people this is a food desert in an area that has half the UK’s productive agricultural land (but mostly growing crops for biofuels, oil, alcohol, sugar and animal food).

In January 2020, the Vegan Society and the Ecologist launched a research report into perceptions of veganism. They said, “For non-vegans, one of the most significant barriers is the perception that sustaining a vegan diet is difficult and not yet socially accepted.” I find this is true. When raising the benefits of a plant-based (vegan or vegetarian) diet, people raise common objections about:

  • how expensive it is (although studies have shown that it is much cheaper than a meat-based diet, and increased health & productivity has a financial benefit)
  • not wanting to offend or trouble people who are cooking for you (so bring your own dishes or recipes, or just be bold!)
  • concern that plant-based diets aren’t healthy.

While it is important to be aware of essential nutrients that can be lacking, this is not generally the case. I’ve done some research to find correlations of all the health benefits of a whole-food plant-based or vegetarian diet with the reduction of risk factors in a range of diseases.

My starting point was this ‘twin study’ which is popularised in the Netflix series ‘You Are What You Eat: The Twin Experiment’. It draws on multiple prior studies and uses more objective methods by working with sets of twins to demonstrate that, in particular, a whole-food plant-based diet has these outcomes:

  • lower weight
  • improve lipid management i.e. lower cholesterol
  • improved glucose metabolism i.e. less risk of diabetes
  • lower blood pressure
  • improved cardiometabolic health.

So, I wanted to dig around to find how this relates to particular knock-on conditions. Here are some things I found:

‘All-cause mortality’: Substituting processed meats with plant-based food on a daily basis was associated with a 25% lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, and a 21% lower risk of death from any cause. Systematic review of 30+ studies, German researchers, BMC Medicine.

Osteoarthritis: Being just 10 pounds overweight puts an extra 15 to 50 pounds of pressure on your knees. This makes it more likely to you’ll develop osteoarthritis or make the disease worse if you already have it. The Arthritis Foundation.

Multiple Sclerosis: Some studies have shown that specific diets characterized by low fat, low calories, low protein, or rich in vegetables might regulate the immune system function and modulate the disease activity in MS patients. Study in Current Journal of Neurology and there’s an ‘Overcoming MS’ diet that includes some fish.

Asthma: both healthful and unhealthful plant-based diets were associated with a lower incidence of asthma symptoms over time. Study in Nutrients journal.

Lupus / SLE: chronic multisystem autoimmune rheumatic disease. Nutrients from a plant-based diet reduce inflammation, and have an indirect effect on insulin resistance, obesity and other co-morbidities. Three intervention studies described here.

Depression: Study of 3,486 people over 5 years. A whole food diet was found to reduce symptoms of depression. A vegetarian whole-food diet had even more positive outcomes. Study in British Journal of Psychology.

Diabetes: when participants followed a healthy plant-based diet that focused on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and was low in refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red and processed meats, there was an associated 34% reduction in diabetes risk. Study in Advances in Nutrition. And a study by Medichecks of 21,000 UK residents shows the vegans had lower risk signs of developing diabetes & cardiovascular diseases.

Cancers: there are abundant observational studies assessing the association between plant-based diets and cancer risk, including multiple longitudinal cohort studies and similar data from case-control studies that demonstrate a decreased overall cancer risk with plant-based diets. Case-control studies support a decreased risk of colorectal and breast cancers with plant-based diets. See this synthesis study.

Childhood development & disease: Nutritionally balanced plant-based diet adopted at an early age may reduce the risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension in adulthood. Diet should include adequate sources of calcium, vitamin D, protein and vitamin B12, and introducing young children to allergens (including animal products) helps reduce risk. Cow’s milk has a number of risks for children — lack of iron, protein allergy, kidney stress, colic, ear infections etc etc. (Many studies available.)

That is a pretty resounding argument that eating plant-based, whether strictly vegan or not, is excellent for your health if you eat enough whole foods and a good variety of plants.

So, my post has focused on health benefits. I’ve researched and written often about the relationship between the food system and environmental harms — climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss and the harms to animals themselves. If you want more arguments on this, you can see this appendix I compiled as part of research on Sustainable Food I led in 2021. For me, these wider environmental reasons are far more important, but this post is intended to set out reasons that others might find more compelling.




Director of Flow & Climate Museum UK. Co-founder Culture Declares. Cultural researcher, artist-curator, educator.