“Going green” is often accompanied with messages such as driving less, conserving water, and turning off devices we aren’t using. While all of these are great ways to reduce our impact on the environment, one of the most powerful ways we can is with our fork.
With scientific consensus agreeing that our climate is changing quickly, with humans being the primary cause, we have an ethical obligation to examine how our personal choices impact the world around us. Food and agriculture are primary drivers of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution around the world. What we eat, how much we eat, and how much we waste have can vary widely depending on the type of food and how it was produced.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, we are currently using 1.5 earth’s worth of resources.
If everyone in the world lived and ate like a New Zealander, we would need nearly three earth’s worth of resources.
Agriculture also consumes over 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water supply.
As our global population continues to expand to an expected 9.5 billion by 2050, we must critically examine our food consumption habits.
While all foods have environmental footprints, some score much higher on the spectrum. The most resource intensive foods are animal-based foods. Animal foods consume much more land, energy, water, and fertilizers to produce similar quantities of nutrients when compared to plant-based foods.
Currently in New Zealand, 60 per cent of rivers are un-swimmable due to excess nutrition pollution leaching from farms into our waterways. The animal agriculture industry also produces more greenhouse gasses than all cars on the road combined.
As a registered dietitian, I would never tell my clients that any food they wanted to eat was off limits. My message is moderation, loud and clear. Meat can be a part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation. Unfortunately, like many developed countries, New Zealand is consuming over 70kg of meat per person per year – much more than is recommended by public health agencies.
Cutting back on meat, particularly red meat, and replacing it with a plant-based protein such as beans, tofu, tempeh, or lentils is a fantastic way to improve your diet and reduce your environmental footprint.
Another trending topic, and rightfully so, is food waste. As mentioned above, food requires an immense amount of resources to grow, process, ship, and store. When we waste food, we also waste the resources used to create that food. As insult to injury, when food enters the landfill, it creates methane gas – which is 21x more potent than carbon dioxide.
At current rates, New Zealanders are wasting nearly 40% of all food produced. We can all do better in this regard. Taking leftovers home and actually eating them, buying only what we need, preserving food, and eating less, are all practical and impactful ways to reduce the amount of food we eat, and ultimately make our diets greener.
Science shows that eating more plants, less meat, and wasting less food can improve our health while helping to save the environment. Small shifts in our diet, collectively, can make a major impact over time.
Chris Vogliano MS RDN is a registered dietitian and blogger with a special interest in promoting sustainable foods and diets.
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