As people around the globe gear up to protest to end the age of fossil fuels, the climate crisis propels to front of mind and media once again. And, though the importance of government commitments to replace disruptive energy sources with renewable ones cannot be underplayed, the strikes will have many of us pondering just how we can make a difference in our day-to-day lives. Increasingly, it’s becoming clear that the most impactful changes can be made through dietary tweaks.
The carbon footprint of our food habits is something that has taken up many a newspaper headline in 2019, by and large, all pointing in the direction of less reliance on animal products. As the media coverage has mounted, so to have the resources for tracking the impact we’re having and knowing where we can make changes. From comprehensive studies to interactive journalism and dedicated podcasts, here are a few of our favourites.
Earlier this year, the New York Times published an interactive guide to how to shop, cook and eat in a warming world. In its many pages of quality-sourced research, it touches on everything from how exactly food contributes to global warming (largely deforestation and methane emissions caused by livestock farming, plus fossil fuels used to make machinery and fertilizer, FYI) to the real impact of recycling on food waste.
Devised by 37 world-leading scientists, the planetary-health diet by the EAT-Lancet Commission looks to answer the question, “Can we feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries”. The summary report is now available in eight different languages and draws up guidelines for nutritious food options, all while addressing the major role of farming (especially livestock) in climate change and wildlife destruction.
EAT is a non-profit startup dedicated to transforming our global food system through sound science, impatient disruption and novel partnerships. Its Faces of Food podcast is all part of its mission to create global food systems that don’t leave anyone behind, interviewing activists, chefs, farmers, visionary leaders, entrepreneurs and scientists transforming how we think about food. If you’re interested in hearing case studies for sustainable food strategies from around the world, be sure to add it to your list.
Using research carried out through 2012-13 on low carbon diets, this UK-specific resource highlighted early measures that rethink the future of Britain’s food landscape. Of course, statistics have changed as the climate crisis has worsened, but even here we could take away that a reduction of meat and dairy in the diet could result in a 34% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and 65% reduction in land use.
To really understand the climate impact of your food choices specifically, the BBC’s calculator puts a number to it by using the global emissions averages of 34 common food items and the frequency with which you eat them. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that regular red meat consumption is the most detrimental to the planet. According to the infographics, a daily helping of beef for one year amounts to eight return flights to Malaga and equivalent land usage of 31 tennis courts.
It turns out that a 2050 population exceeding 10 billion can be sustainably fed without exceeding the Earth’s limitations, according to 2018 research led by the University of Oxford’s Dr Marco Springman. A read through the study’s contents reveals again that a shift away from meat reliance toward a plant-based one will be the most important step. But alongside statistics of just how big a step that should be, Sprigmann notes the importance of policy and business approaches to make these changes possible and attractive for a large number of people.
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