Indeed, we as ordinary citizens do not have the power or influence to bring forward immediate change to make the world a more sustainable place. However, we are not completely powerless either. Environmental protection starts as early as with what clothes you decide to buy or what food ends up on your plate. Let’s take a closer look at a climate-friendly diet.
Ditch animal products to save the planet
One of the favourite arguments many people who live by a plant-based diet due to environmental reasons have, is that eating animal products destroys the planet. Food producers can lessen the environmental impact of the food they produce according to researchers Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek in their article “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers” in Science Magazine February 22, 2019. Even the impacts of the lowest-impact animal products exceed those of plant-based substitutes. This shows that dietary decisions do have an impact. For example, Poore and Nemecek write that greenhouse gas emissions and land use of dairy beef is six times greater than those of peas.
Writer Paul Greenberg writes in his book “The Climate Diet” that easing up on meat and dairy can save more than 27 kilograms of CO2-emissions per kilogram of meat. Also, protein deficiency is not a problem for those who are worried that they might not get enough protein for normal life or muscle building when following a plant-based diet. According to Greenberg, “Americans overeat protein by about 30 per cent” anyway.
Local versus global food
Buying your groceries at a local food market might be a good idea, however, that is not always true when it comes to lessening your emission footprint. Depending on the region where you live and how the food is produced it might not be grown on fields but rather in greenhouses or grown out of season. When you shop locally, make sure that you think about what really grows in your region and that it is seasonally appropriate.
This also includes avoiding food that is transported by airplanes. Transportation of the food we eat also makes up the emission footprint of products. Bananas flown in from Costa Rica have a larger CO2 footprint than frozen berries for example as well. Frozen food can be transported slower and over a larger period of time and is, therefore, more climate-friendly.
Try to avoid aquaculture
Although aquaculture, breeding fish and other sea animals in an enclosed area, might need less land than cattle or other animals, according to Poole and Nemecek the lowest-impact aquaculture systems still exceed emissions of vegetable proteins. This brings us back to the question of whether or not the vegan diet is the most planet-friendly diet. What makes animal products highly destructive for the environment is the whole process of producing them: this does not only include the feeding of the animals.
Transportation of animal food and then later on of the animals to the slaughterhouse and then to other factories or a supermarket needs to be calculated as well. Additionally, rainforests get cut down to grow soy to feed the animals and the animals themselves also need space to live. Due to fresh animal products being prone to spoilage, the amount of waste generated by this food sector rises as well. Same goes for the waste produced by animals as well as cows burping up methane.
What to keep in mind beyond food itself
What is also part of a climate-friendly diet is not only the actual food that ends up on our plates or where it comes from. It also matters how it is packed. Avoid packaging whenever and wherever you can. Plastic waste already is a huge problem with litter covering huge areas of the ocean like the Great Pacific Garbage patch which covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometres which equals three times the size of France.
Another huge problem we are facing is food waste. Even though today we could feed ten billion people already, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted per year worldwide according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Cook smart and don’t buy more groceries than you need so you don’t have to through away surplus food. Also, put a lid on your pots and use the correct stove for your pots to save energy. Drink tap water.
Together we might not be able to single-handedly save the world, but we can each do our part, one meal at a time.