This article is designed to inform you of essential facts, prompt you to reassess certain behaviours and empower you to be part of the solution.
Start with what you eat
Agriculture contributes to over a quarter of global carbon emissions each year and intensive agriculture is destroying the Earth’s ability to make more food. Total emissions from the livestock sector alone contribute to 18% of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated that 30% of farmable land is already gone and there are between 30 and 50 harvests left before farmable land is too sterile to grow anything. What we eat makes a significant difference to the impacts of climate breakdown.
Food choice is a form of activism. As consumers, we are powerful. Everything we buy (and don’t buy) sends signals to the market that adjust according to our demand. If we change our habits we will change the system. If we don’t change, we reinforce a system that is literally destroying the planet.
So, if you want to get involved in climate action but don’t know what to do, what you put on your plate is a great place to start.
Remember, you don’t have to strive for perfection. But if you can combine as many of the factors mentioned in this article into as many purchases as possible, then your food will be a positive force in the fight against the climate and ecological emergency.
Undeniable truths to consider
- 36% of the calories grown in food around the world – and 53% of the protein – are used to feed farm animals. Furthermore, it takes about 100 calories of grain to produce just 12 calories of chicken or 3 calories worth of beef. Livestock-based food production causes one-fifth of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Our consumption of meat is not only bad for our health but is destroying our home.
- Beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water compared to other food sources. That adds up to about five times more greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle ranching is also the leading cause of deforestation on the planet.
- Non-organic food uses pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that encourage the evolution of more resistant pests, weeds and diseases. Being poisons, they also lead to health issues in our own bodies. These chemicals also destroy our soils, stopping them from growing more food and forcing greater use of poisons and artificial growth stimulants.
What you eat
Let’s be clear; eating meat and dairy is accelerating catastrophic climate change. By not eating meat or dairy you are tackling the greatest threat our species has ever faced. That is an undeniable fact.
A vegan diet is not only one of the healthiest diets scientifically, but can also have one of the biggest impacts on reducing your carbon footprint. Have you tried vegan or vegetarian meals or alternative products to meat and dairy? If you find something you equally like or prefer, then that is an easy switch for the better.
Remember, your diet doesn’t have to be binary. Every non-meat or dairy free meal is a victory.
If you cut down to just three meat/dairy meals a week, your diet is almost 90% plant based. That is a fantastic achievement and something to be proud of.
For independent, science based guidance on the health benefits of a plant-based diet, visit nutritionfacts.org
When you eat
Eating within season is one of the simplest ways to reduce your food’s carbon footprint. Food grown out of season either has to be grown in energy intensive warehouses or shipped from abroad.
Eating in season also means your diet changes throughout the year, providing a more varied source of nutrition.
Of course, there is no need to feel guilty about eating food that is not available in your country. But by eating in season, chances are you’re eating locally and therefore supporting your community as well as reducing carbon emissions.
A quick internet search will let you know what fruits and vegetables are currently in season for your area.
For those in the UK, try this seasonal fruit and veg chart from The Vegetarian Society
Where you eat
Transport is a major source of a food’s carbon emissions. Eating locally is a simple way to reduce your carbon emissions. It’s also a great way to support your local organic food producers and community, where farming tends to be more transparent. All products have an origin and that should be stated on the packaging or label. If it’s not there, ask, and if they don’t know, avoid. But remember, just because it hasn’t come by plane or boat doesn’t mean it’s the environmentally sound option – if it’s meat or dairy that footprint will exceed any other product imported, no matter where it’s come from.
Check the label on food items. How far away was it grown or packaged? It’s not always that simple, but it’s a good place to start.
As always, avoid meat and diary. The carbon emissions will almost always outdo transport of fruit and vegetables.
It is easy to grow food at home. An internet search will show you how.
Things to consider regarding organic farming
Truly organic farms should not use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, steroids, antibiotics or other forms of poisons. Famers, instead use techniques that harness natural systems to protect crops from pests and disease, including; agroforestry, permaculture, adaptive grazing, polyculture and more. These techniques not only produce better, healthier, higher quality food but boost biodiversity, absorb carbon from the atmosphere and will sustain farming lands indefinitely.
If organic food seems expensive that is because it is pitched against artificially cheap food. Across the world, agricultural subsidies support unsustainable and destructive farming practices. Your taxes are literally paying to destroy our food systems.
Furthermore, farmers are not paid fairly or enough, having their prices forced down by global conglomerates. This means they have to produce their food as cheaply as possible, which leads to low quality, unhealthy food. You are buying food that doesn’t sustain you.
- READ “our farmers can be climate heroes” by Peter Byck, writer and director of Carbon Cowboys
- READ “a global switch to regenerative farming would all but solve climate change” by Patrick Holden CBE, CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust
Things to consider regarding fish and fishing
Fish move. They spawn in one place, move to another, breed somewhere else, travel back and lay eggs. It is a cycle. If they are fished in the wrong place, this cycle is disrupted and populations can be decimated. Therefore, where fish are caught is incredibly important.
Fish populations ebb and flow depending on how much they are in demand. A fish one year may be thought as sustainable only to be endangered the next. Organisations such as the Marine Stewardship Council and Aquaculture Stewardship Council use labelling to try and help consumers make the better choice.
Different fishing methods don’t necessarily mean they are sustainable. “Line and hook” sounds quaint and small, but the lines are miles long with hundreds of hooks that any fish may get caught on. Don’t be fooled by clever marketing and slick logos.
There are no excuses
Beef and intensive meat production is a leading cause of catastrophic climate change and biodiversity collapse.
Non-organic and unsustainable farming is bringing about a world-wide agricultural collapse. This will lead to mass starvation across the planet in the coming decade.
Your actions matter. As consumers, your choices make a difference. If you make the right choice and tell people, they will follow. It starts with you.
Clichés against improving our food impact
“Everyone blames farmers for climate change.”
- People do, and they shouldn’t. Farmers are victims of the climate crisis and a failed system that supports unsustainable practices. Agriculture will be the industry that suffers the most the soonest. Farming can not only reduce carbon emissions but reverse them through regenerative and sustainable practices. Support those industries when purchasing your food.
“If everyone goes vegan, more land will be needed to grow more fruits and vegetables”
- Of all the land on the planet that is used to make food, 77% is used to raise livestock. Of the 23% used to grow food, 36% is for animal feed. If livestock reduces, that land is ready to grow either more fruit and vegetables or be returned to nature.
“Vegans are unhealthy”
- It’s the opposite. Thousands of studies (not funded by meat and dairy cooperations) have proven that a varied plant-based wholefood diet is one of the healthiest on the planet.
“Soy is the real problem for the Amazon, not beef.”
- Any unsustainable farming practices are problems. Although soy is a contributor to global deforestation, beef production is by far the leading cause. Also, the majority of soy production goes to feeding cattle.
“I can’t give up meat because I would miss my favourite meal too much.”
- Then don’t give up your favourite meal. The planet doesn’t need everyone to go purely vegan, but reduction is incredibly impactful. If still eating your favourite meat meal means you reduce your overall meat intake, then that’s a great start.
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