Climate change is a hot topic these days — especially considering Greta Thunberg’s recent speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. Thunberg was one of four youth speakers at the summit held in late September at the New York UN headquarters, and ever since, her speech has been making waves all over the Internet. Prior to the summit, millions across the world came together to march for climate action, demanding governments to do their part to secure a better future for our planet and its inhabitants.
Tackling climate change is definitely one of the biggest issues of our lifetime. From a health standpoint alone, increasing climate change could lead to a rise in environmental disasters, undernutrition and lack of food security, and an increase in disease and allergies. These impacts don’t even begin to cover the myriad of consequences of increasing global temperatures, such as the inevitability of “climate migrants” and the extinction of threatened species.
While there’s no doubt that governments need to majorly ramp up efforts to safeguard our future from impending climate doom, there is much that we as individuals can do to help save the environment. Looking at our food consumption, for instance, is a good place to start.
Food and the Environment
It might not be the first (or even last) thing you think about as you cut into that juicy steak, but our food habits are intrinsically connected to environmental impact. In fact, an article on the LA Times states that “food production including growing crops, raising livestock, fishing and transporting all that food to our plates is responsible for 20% to 30% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, 33% of the ice-free land on our planet is being used to grow our food.”
To make matters worse, we are not even close to being on-track to meet Mission 2020 — the parameters that might help prevent irreversible damage to the planet. An article on The Guardian that explores what environmentalists should ideally eat states, “With the global population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, what humanity eats has growing implications for topsoil, pollution, greenhouse gases, and deforestation.”
With this in mind, changing your diet to help the environment is definitely worth considering. The LA Times piece quotes a study by Paul Behrens, an environmental scientist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, that found that a healthy diet correlates with a healthier environment. Particularly in high-income countries like the United States, following healthy dietary recommendations could reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to food production by 13-25%.
The Vegan Diet
The significant impact our food habits can have on saving the environment is one of the contributing factors to the rise of movements such as veganism, which boycotts the use and consumption of any animal products. According to Bénédicte Coutheillas, founder of HowManyVegans.com, “Veganism promotes ethics and stability in human, animal empathy and one spiritual consciousness, compassion, freedom and justice being at the forefront of this sustainability.”
Meat and animal products are by far the worst types of food in terms of environmental impact due to the number of resources that go into meat production, as well as the resulting loss of energy. Thus, excluding meat and animal products from your diet significantly reduces individual environmental impact.
The Flexitarian Way
For some people, however, completely cutting out meat and animal products from their diet is unthinkable. Here’s where another type of diet comes in: the flexitarian diet. A flexitarian diet leans towards plant-based foods but allows for fish, eggs, and one-off meat consumption. Its environmental impact is much lower than the average American diet, and it makes for a much easier lifestyle shift than going full vegan.
In the Guardian article, Samin Nosrat, author of the bestselling cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking (that is now a Netflix docuseries) wholeheartedly advocates for the flexitarian diet. “The answer is really simple. Eat as many vegetables as possible,” says Nosrat, “I don’t think using a little parm is going to be the end of the world. That is not the greatest and most immediate source of global danger. Meat really is.”
Other food experts seem to swing the same way too. Marion Nestle, an emeritus professor of nutrition at New York University, believes that the diet that most benefits the environment is the same as one that is best for human health. What this means is eating mostly plant-based foods, with minimal junk food intake. For a lot of people, reducing junk food intake is very difficult as the United States is notorious for its widespread availability of fast foods and processed goods. These foods are high in saturated fat, calories, salt, and sugar and contribute greatly to the obesity epidemic that plagues America.
Fast foods, processed foods, and junk food in general, are terrible for the environment in terms of emissions as a result of ingredient production and shipping. Not to mention, the packaging used by most fast-food chains is plastic-reliant, and detrimental to the environment as well. Minimizing your intake of these foods will not only do wonders for your health but help save our planet too.
The main takeaway here is to be as mindful as possible when it comes to your food habits. Try changing your diet to reduce your meat and animal product intake and prioritize plant-based foods instead. Avoid junk and processed food to the best of your ability. For the more ambitious, try out veganism (you can even start with vegetarianism to prep your body).
As a rule of thumb, choose locally grown produce. Nordic diets place high importance on using locally sourced foods, as these minimize the environmental impact of food transportation and air shipping. Finally, don’t waste your food! Food waste is a global concern, and by minimizing your food waste, you can help the environment no matter which type of diet you follow.
Changing your diet is a simple way to do your part for our planet — by making just a few changes to your food habits, you could significantly reduce environmental impact while also bettering your own health.
Image Source: Pixabay creative commons
Guest Author Bio
Jori Hamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, healthcare, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori, and through her portfolio at Writer Jori Hamilton.