How are climate change and food linked?
Updated: Nov 17
Livestock farming produces from 20% to 50% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations has published multiple reports stating that one of the most significant ways to reduce greenhouse gases is “to shift toward plant-based diets”. I bet you are surprised that your chicken nuggets or morning cereal can bring a tremendous effect on the environment and society but that's a fact.
Food choice always seems like a personal decision but it’s not only about you anymore. Our passion for meat involves more than 60 billion land animals that take almost half of all agricultural land for food and pasture. Animal foods demand a greater input of resources like water, fuel, and land and contribute to deforestation and biodiversity loss. If we don't act, deforestation can turn the remaining Amazon forests into a degraded type of desert and also release more than 50 billion tonnes of carbon in approximetely 40 years. About one-quarter of Earth’s ice-free land area has already been suffering from human-induced soil degradation.
Unfortunately, most of us aren't aware about how our diet choices contribute to global warming. The University of Oxford invented a calculator that helps to find out the climate impact of what you eat and drink. For instance, if you use a cup of dairy milk a day for either cooking or drinking, your consumption is contributing 229kg to your annual greenhouse gas emissions. The same consumption of oat milk contributes only 65kg (3.5 times less). Just one chicken breast takes over 542 liters of water to produce and that could fill up your bathtub 7 times! By going vegetarian for just a year, you can save the same amount of emissions as taking a small family car off the road for 6 months.
The production of meat and dairy contributes many more emissions than growing vegetables, fruits, and grains. The reason is pretty obvious – it's more efficient to grow a crop and eat it than to grow a crop, feed it to an animal as it gains its muscle mass, then eat the animal. Beef production is responsible for most emissions on a commodity basis. Cows generate the potent greenhouse gas methane as they digest their food. Cattle milk is the second-worst in carbon footprint. Imagine how many opportunities are there to turn the tables if billions of people think about amending the way they eat?
What can you do to really reduce the carbon footprint of your breakfast, lunches, and dinner? When it comes to our diets, the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says we need to buy less meat and dairy - but also eat more locally sourced seasonal food and throw less of it away. Cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual's carbon footprint from food by two-thirds.
If you read all of it and still think, “I don’t know if I can ever do it, I love cheese so much”, catch this thought! The point of adjusting to a plant-based diet is not about giving up everything you eat in one day – it is about trying step by step, thinking about what you’re ready to minimize, setting your priorities & finding the alternatives. If you reject the idea of going vegan just because you can’t imagine your life without cheese, think about something else that is easier to replace. Do you actually like the taste of milk or you just got used to buying it? Do you think you can replace your meat with beans or tofu a couple of times a week? Did you know that avocado can be a substitute to butter and mayonnaise in a salad? While a vegetarian diet is far more sustainable, a diet that includes small portions of meat still has a lower carbon footprint.
No matter how small the change in your diet will be at the beginning, it’s about to make a difference anyway. The amount of ideas is infinite, just give yourself a chance to start.