Climate action: it starts on your plate
Everyone’s heard of climate change. The term was believed to have been coined in 1979 in a study of carbon dioxide, so the concept is not new.
Most Gen Z will probably remember hearing about it at school from a young age, and the awareness of the issue has only grown. The term ‘climate anxiety’ even exists these days meaning:
"the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one's future and that of next generations”
Essentially, in easier words, this is a term used to describe the growing anxiety we feel surrounding the worsening and potentially life-threatening issue of climate change (sound familiar?). Perhaps even exacerbated by the fact that most countries and large companies’ responses towards climate change are nowhere near enough.
The hidden impact of meat
We have likely all heard about the effects of fossil fuels, deforestation or even fast fashion. But perhaps a lesser-known aspect of climate change is how our food affects our planet. Almost a quarter of global greenhouse gases come from agriculture – from the land needed to raise them to the transportation costs. Take water consumption, for example -
‘A single pound of beef takes, on average, 1,800 gallons of water to produce’
Agriculture requires vast amounts of water, more than you may have realised – from keeping the pastures healthy (even more so in the case of free-range livestock where the pasture itself feeds the livestock), producing feed for livestock, providing water for the livestock themselves and more. Farmlands also must be created, often through deforestation or the destruction of vital ecosystems, to produce things like corn and soy for animal feed.
The effect of fishing
Furthermore, things like fishing also have their consequences. In the case of aquafarming, many of the fish bred are predators, so they need their own fish to eat (for example, it takes five pounds of ocean fish to produce just one pound of farmed salmon), meaning more production and farming creating a cruel cycle. Bottom trawling (the method of catching fish by dragging a large net along the seabed) is equally if not more disruptive. While being a fast way of mass fishing, it doesn't discriminate on what it picks up, destroying any and all marine life on the seabed in its path. In fact, The United Nations estimates that up to 95% of global ocean damage is a direct result of bottom trawling. (It must be noted however, this does not apply to Indigenous cultures where the practice of hunting is inherently sustainable, and for many, the practice of hunting animals means honouring the animal by using every last part of it, so its death was not wasted)
So what's the solution to this all? It could be to simply cut all processed, animal-based foods out of your diet completely - but while ideal, this may not be entirely realistic for most people. The key is balance. One way to do this is by reducing the number of animal products in your diet on a weekly basis. Take the idea of Meat-free Mondays, for example: a day or even one meal without meat could have a great positive impact, and according to one recent study:
'If every person in the U.S. cut their meat consumption by 25 percent, it would reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 1 percent'
1% might not sound like a lot, but everything counts in the fight towards climate action. What's more, you could look at vegan/vegetarian swaps for everyday foods. For example, swapping lentils for meat in dishes such as lasagna or curry, non-dairy milk replacements or even nutritional yeast instead of cheese.
It ain't easy being vegan..or is it?
These days, companies are making more progress toward plant-based alternatives than ever before, and with the rise of 'Veganuary', plant-based options for your favourite snacks are becoming a reality. Starbucks has made all of their dairy-free milk alternatives free in the UK. Greggs introduced a vegan sausage roll. Even Galaxy has vegan chocolate - imperceptible to the original in flavour! It is now easier than ever before to make those small changes here and there to create a wider-reaching positive change.
Not only does this benefit the environment but your health too: introducing more whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts etc and reducing overall meat consumption can be beneficial for gut health, weight management and protecting against some diseases! If the idea of a plant-based diet or reducing your intake of animal products isn't for you, then the next best thing you could do is consider seasonal and local foods.
Keep it local
Fruit and vegetable production plays a part in C02 emissions as well, especially transport from other countries. Producing out of season foods requires energy for artificial heating/lighting, refrigeration and storage, transport costs and more. In contrast, foods grown seasonally retain more nutrients normally lost in transportation, are generally cheaper and benefit local farmers—a win-win situation.
For example, in the UK, fruits and veggies that are seasonal in the month of May include beetroot, lettuce, peas, rhubarb and strawberries vs in September where they might be butternut squash, cauliflower, pumpkin or pears. Buying local meat also benefits the environment as well as supporting your local farmers, so perhaps visit a local butcher or check the packaging of meats in the supermarket. This may seem slightly more time consuming or inconvenient, but we have to all play our part in climate action for the health of our planet and our future.
In summary, the climate crisis is something we are undoubtedly all aware of, and we must take action to fight it every day. While this may sound daunting, there are small changes you can make simply by the food you buy and eat. This can include a variety of options, from adopting a plant-based diet or reducing your animal product consumption to buying local meat and dairy and looking out for seasonal fruit and vegetables.
Not only does this benefit the planet, but it can be beneficial to our health as well as strengthen our local communities and economies. A small change is still change, after all.