The climatarian diet
WellBeing|WellBeing #196
Our daily food choices have an impact not only on our health but also on the climate. We explore how to shop, cook, eat and reduce waste in a warming world.
LISA GUY

What we choose to eat each day not only affects our health and wellbeing, but has a huge impact on the health of our planet. Agriculture produces around a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE).

The carbon footprint can vary greatly between different types of foods. Meat production, in particular beef and lamb, have the greatest emission levels of all foods. Beef’s GHGE per kilogram is around 10 times that of chicken and 20 times that of legumes, nuts and seeds.

Changing the way we eat, even just moderately, by moving towards a more climate-friendly diet can play an important part in helping stop climate change and improve our health.

What is a climatarian diet?

The main principle behind a climatarian diet is choosing foods based on their carbon footprint. This carbon-conscious way of eating involves thinking about where your food comes from and what impact it has on the Earth. A climatarian diet includes eating more unprocessed plant-based foods, reducing meat and dairy consumption (particularly beef and lamb) and reducing ultra-processed foods such as junk foods, vegetable oils and animal products. Put simply, it’s a balanced and healthy way of eating that focuses more on plant-based foods and less on animal products.

A climatarian diet also focuses on locally sourced, in-season produce. Shopping at your local market and greengrocers will help reduce emissions associated with transporting food across the country or world. Reducing food waste and plastic-packaged goods is also an important element of the climatarian diet.

The beauty of the climatarian diet is that it’s flexible, which makes it easy to stick to. You can choose to include some red meat, fish, poultry, or eggs in your diet, or you can choose to go vegetarian or full vegan.

Shifting towards eating a more climate-friendly diet will help reduce GHGE and therefore protect our environment. To be able to make the best food choices, it’s important to know which foods have the biggest carbon footprint.

According to a Harvard University study, substituting one daily serving of red meat with a serving of nuts can cut your risk of premature death by nearly 20 per cent.

Meat

Meat causes much higher GHGE than plant-based foods. Beef and lamb in particular have a greater impact on GHGE than other animal-based foods, partly due to how these animals digest food.

Grazing or ruminant animals like cattle, sheep and goats produce more GHGE per kilogram of food than any other livestock because they produce methane gas as a result of food fermenting in their four stomach digestive system. The poorer the diet, the more methane gas they produce. Pigs and poultry on the other hand don’t produce methane gas. Cattle also use more land, take longer to grow and consume more energy-intensive feed, and they also produce more manure compared to chickens or pigs.

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