Your diet may be one of your biggest contributions to climate change
The makeup of my diet is not something that I have paid too much attention to. The thinking part, has been largely confined to ensuring that our meals are reasonably varied, that we are getting the required intake of fruit & veg and, trying to avoid too many of those (usually pleasurable) foods that seem to make our clothes too small for us.
When I used the carbon neutral trust calculator I could not believe the results. Food was our biggest CO2e contribution, by the proverbial country mile (see graph to right).
Getting our travel and transport emissions under control was not too much of a challenge for us but what were we doing wrong with our eating?
As I investigated further, with the help of information sent through by our food watchdog (Inge), it was clear that eating meat was the culprit. Inge sent me this link to an article in The Guardian. The headline screams “Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth” It goes on to reveal that the biggest analysis to date reveals the huge footprint of livestock - it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland!
The research showed that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.
Well I am not sure that I am quite ready to go full-vegan but the household has decided to see if we can reduce our meat and dairy intake. It is not easy. The one factor that would make it a lot easier would be a requirement that all packaging display the CO2e emissions per 100g of the associated food item. I am not sure that suppliers would be too amiable to doing that but maybe as the crisis deepens they may be forced to.
I had a dig around and found some limited guides on the carbon emissions for a range of more common food items. The Guardian article above shows some, as does this site: http://www.greeneatz.com/foods-carbon-footprint.html which also gives some great tips on how to move to a healthier and earth friendlier diet.
It is not just about what we eat but also what we waste. In the “western world” we throw out about a third of the food that we buy.
So, next time you are about to add a food item to the shopping trolley, think about the carbon and environmental impact of your choices. Also consider the quantities of fresh food you add and the potential shelf life of them once you get them home.
How is our household going with our changes to our diet?
Well it is taking a bit of effort. We have dug around and found some really tasty meat free meal recipes and over the last month we have managed to limit our meat intake to a little poultry and fish. We were not huge consumers of dairy products but we have switched from dairy based yoghurt to coconut which, while being a bit more expensive, is countered by reducing the servings (it is also very tasty). We have dabbled with alternative milks as a compliment to cereals (and an alternative to yoghurt) and cut back on our cheese consumption.
Having done this, food is still the biggest source of our emissions so I guess it is work in progress. The realisation that that our diet was not good in many ways was a critical to us actually doing something about it. If it hadn't been for the carbon calculator we would not have changed anything.