Innovation That Matters


Trend Explained

More people than ever are considering the climate in their food choices

There are a huge number of different diets – paleo, mediterranean, high protein, low fat, low carb, low protein, and everything in between. But consumers are increasingly becoming specifically interested in diets that have a positive impact on climate change. One of these is vegan, which is growing rapidly in popularity. But giving up all meat and dairy products is not for everyone, and it can be very difficult for a wide number of reasons. Recently, however, a more holistic way of looking at diet and climate has emerged – climatarianism. 

A focus on climate and lifestyle

For a climatarian, making food choices that reduce your carbon footprint is more important than the exact type of food you eat. Climatarianism includes eating locally-produced food to reduce the energy spent in transportation, choosing foods that are less energy and water intensive, staying away from processed foods and using every part of the food (apple cores, cheese rinds, etc.) to limit waste. 

Crucially for some, climatarianism does not eschew meat. Instead, it aims to reduce meat consumption while favouring meats, like pork and poultry, that incur fewer emissions during production than beef and lamb. The logic behind this is that, if the choice is between locally-grown, free-range chicken and greenhouse-grown vegetables flown in from thousands of miles away, the chicken could have the lower carbon footprint.

But climatarianism also goes beyond diet to encompass an entire lifestyle. Many of the people who follow this system also work to reduce their carbon footprint in other areas of life. And this way of living is catching on. Apps like Kuri offer recipes based on locally available seasonal ingredients, while fast-casual restaurant Just Salad has started to list the CO2 emissions of each item on its menu.

There are also a number of climatarian-friendly brands. One of these is Moonshot, a carbon-neutral company in San Francisco which bills itself as the world’s first explicitly climate-friendly snack brand. The company uses regeneratively grown ingredients, stone-milled heirloom wheat and 100 percent recycled packaging. 

Moonshot founder and CEO Julia Collins has also started Planet FWD, which sells “sustainability software” aimed at helping food companies calculate the environmental impact of their offerings.

The impact of eating on the climate

But will all this really do any good? After all, what is one more avocado or imported banana in the overall scheme of things? Actually, many experts suggest that eating in a climate-friendly way can make a difference. 

According to UC Santa Barbara ecology professor David Tilman, who recently published a paper on the climate effects of food production in the journal Science, even in the absence of fossil fuels, cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from food production could still cause global temperatures to exceed climate change targets.

“Global food demand, and the greenhouse gases associated with it, are on a trajectory to push the world past the one-and-a-half-degree goal, and make it hard to stay under the two degree limit,” said Tilman. According to the paper, if left unchecked, agricultural emissions alone could push the world above the proposed 1.5°C limit by 2050.

And eating for the climate may not even involve that much sacrifice. In fact, decreasing red meat intake from just three and a half to two and a half servings weekly could be enough to cut emissions by the equivalent of 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide per day. According to Jennifer Jay, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at UCLA, if this shift were reproduced across the entire population of the U.S. for just one year, it would result in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 106 million metric tons — the equivalent of one-third of the Paris Climate Agreement targets.

This also demonstrates that, instead of completely changing your entire diet, or giving up all of the foods you normally eat, it is possible to make a big difference by making smaller changes. In fact, climatarians argue that the list of smaller changes that can be used to help fight climate change is almost infinite.

Written By: Lisa Magloff

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