How To Eat Sustainably
What’s the key to eating well for the planet? As the world’s population grows and we begin to tackle the challenges posed by the Climate Crisis, our diets have become more important than ever. If we want to create a sustainable future, humans will have to care not just about how our food affects us, but how it affects our planet. Just like choosing a diet for weight loss or muscle gain, choosing a diet for planetary health isn’t easy either. Here’s what we’ve discovered about sustainable diets.
We need to talk about meat
Let’s get one thing clear from the off: animal products aren’t easy on the environment. Raising animals for meat production requires massive amounts of water, food, and land. On top of all that, ruminants like cows and goats contribute to greenhouse gas emissions by belching methane into the atmosphere. Let’s also not forget that demand for cattle grazing land is one of the main drivers of deforestation around the globe.
If we want to be able to provide for a population expected to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050, attitudes towards meat consumption will have to change. But in terms of environmental damage, not all meats are created equal. According to the World Resources Institute, beef production demands 3 times more water, 6 times more land, and creates 6 times more emissions than poultry farming. Beef is the worst meat for the environment, followed by lamb, pork, poultry, and fish.
It’s not just meat that’s the problem…
One easy way to dramatically increase the sustainability of your diet is to give up meat. But even then, you should be mindful of what you’re eating. Even animal products like eggs and dairy can be very damaging to the environment. Dairy products, especially cheese, create significant greenhouse gas emissions during the process of raising livestock and producing said products.
Even if you’re sticking to fruit and vegetables, transporting produce from around the globe to your local supermarket comes with environmental costs. To be as eco-friendly as possible, eat according to the season, choosing things that grow locally to you. For those in Germany, that means cooking with things like pumpkin, spinach, cabbage, and cauliflower in the colder months, and saving tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, bell peppers, and aubergine for the warmer half of the year.
What about meat alternatives?
We’ve seen an explosion in meat alternatives entering the market recently. While it’s great that there are more options than ever for replacing meat on your plate, they’re not without their problems. Often these products are heavily processed and industrially produced, creating a bigger environmental impact than fruit or vegetables. The industry has the potential to become an environmental problem itself as it expands. As with all things, moderation is key.
The Planetary Health Diet
Let’s be clear. Vegan and vegetarian diets are better for the environment than those that involve meat. However, the Planetary Health Diet proposes an option for those who aren’t quite ready to give up meat an avenue for reducing their harmful impact on the planet.
Devised by 37 leading scientists, representing voices from agriculture, environment, and public health, the diet puts forward a flexitarian diet that’s good for the body and planet.
Here’s the basic idea:
- Eat mainly plants, but you may include small amounts of fish, meat, and dairy.
- Vary your intake of vegetables and fruit by eating a diverse range of colours.
- Eat unsaturated, not saturated, fats.
- Limit your intake of refined grains, highly processed foods, added sugars, and starchy vegetables.
In practice, this tends to translate to each meal consisting of half a plate of fruit and vegetables, with the other half consisting mainly of plant proteins (beans, lentils, pulses, nuts), whole grains, unsaturated plant oils, modest amounts of meat and dairy, and some added sugars and starchy vegetables.
The strength of this diet is its flexibility, allowing for adaptation to deity needs, personal taste, and cultural tradition. To find out more, click here.