It would be a truism to say that the climate is changing across the world, contributing to more extreme weather conditions. But what we don’t realise is that our modern diets play an instrumental role in furthering the crisis. Modern diets and consumption are directly related to the carbon footprint of the planet — the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions or GHGE attributed directly or indirectly to a person, organisation, event, or product. It is calculated by adding the emissions from every stage of the product’s life cycle, including material production, manufacturing, use, and end.
Food, energy, and water – the three pillars of sustainable development are in exponential demand today due to the worldwide population explosion. Food is responsible for 26 per cent of global GHGE. Agriculture occupies half of the world’s habitable land, consumes 70 per cent of the world’s freshwater, and accounts for 78 per cent of global eutrophication (nutrient-rich pollution of waterways). To save ourselves and our planet, reducing our carbon footprint is vital. In 2016, a review concluded that adopting a sustainable dietary pattern could reduce GHGE by 70 to 80 per cent and water use by 50 per cent. Individual diets, however, are complex and culturally influenced. It is a mammoth task to change one’s diet to reduce the impact of food on climate, as not everyone can or will take the step forward.
Here are a few easy but effective ways to reduce our carbon footprint by making sustainable changes to our eating habits.
Say no to ‘food wastage’
The decomposition of wasted food is one of the major causes of GHGE since they produce a large amount of methane gas. A 2011 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) analysis of global food losses and waste estimated that each year, one-third of all food produced for human consumption never reaches a consumer’s plate. This loss is not only a missed opportunity for the economy and food security but also a waste of all the natural resources used for cultivation, processing, packaging, transporting, and marketing food. Globally, the amount of food loss and waste generated ranges from 194 to 389 kilograms per person per year.
Choose more white flesh foods
Globally, 14.5 per cent of GHGE is attributed to livestock production, particularly beef and dairy cattle. Various reports highlight reducing meat consumption and production as one of the most effective way to reduce the global carbon footprint of food. Even so, it isn’t easy for everyone to eliminate meat from their diet. Replacing red meat with seafood and fish can reduce carbon footprint since fishing does not involve grazing lands, caring for livestock, or emission of GHGs.
Eat more plant-based
Plant-based diets can drastically reduce GHGE. A team of US researchers found that people who ate plant-based diet that included whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes had lower GHGE than people who ate animal-based diet. Nevertheless, ‘plant-based’ excludes processed meat and meat products from plant sources. Often, these products are infused with harmful colourings and synthetic flavors to simulate the taste and texture of meat. Choose organically produced fresh plant-based foods to reap maximum benefits.
Eat more climate-friendly wholegrains
Climate-friendly wholegrains such as millets, maize, and barley are better for the planet than rice and wheat. With its incredible water-use efficiency and heat resistance property, millets are highly sustainable grains. The Indian subcontinent produces a wide variety of millets such as sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, barnyard millet, foxtail millet, kodo millet, proso millet and little millet. In addition, they are excellent for health due to their high fiber and micronutrient content.
Make alternative choices
Milk and dairy products are obtained from cattle, therefore, they result in large GHGE. According to a Dutch study involving more than 2,000 adults, dairy products are the second-biggest emitters of GHGs. It is more efficient to shift to alternative dairy products that are based on soy, almond, and rice, as this will produce a smaller carbon footprint.
Build a kitchen garden
A small kitchen garden on your balcony or backyard brings many benefits, including access to fresh produce, stress reduction, and emotional well-being. It is possible to reduce production, packaging, and transportation costs as well as GHGE involved in these processes by growing your own food.
Eat local, shop in bulk
Purchasing fresh, seasonal foods from the local market can reduce your carbon footprint by cutting down food miles and GHGE during transportation. The Worldwatch Institute found that a regional diet consumes 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country. Shopping in bulk can reduce carbon footprint by lessening travel time, transportation, packaging, and food wastage. Using paper packets instead of plastic bags can also help reduce GHGE significantly.
A radical shift in your current dietary habits can have immense effects on both the environment and your health. To achieve a sustainable diet, take small, gradual steps. It can make a big difference.
Dr Subhasree Ray is Doctoral Scholar (Ketogenic Diet), a certified diabetes educator, and a clinical and public health nutritionist. She tweets @DrSubhasree. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)