From everything we eat in the UK, red meat (lamb and beef) contributes almost a quarter of all the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) we are responsible for (1) - that is mad! Considering that the food industry as a whole creates 30% of the TOTAL GHGe for the world (2,3), it makes this an obvious area to focus on. On the flip side of this bad news, there is a silver lining as we can easily take control of a large chunk of our footprint by making some simple changes. For example, changing from a high meat eater (>100g/day) to a low one (<50g/day) can cut your daily GHGe from 7.19 to 4.67 (kg co2 eq) (4). This is mega, for those steak lovers out there you don’t have to give it up to make a difference. By simply reducing the number of days it is consumed, or the portion sizes you have, you are saving kilograms of GHGe.
Interestingly, reducing the amount of red meat you eat doesn’t only help the planet, but when replaced with beans and pulses it benefits your wealth and health too. Reducing current intakes of meat by 64% and dairy by 40%, whilst adapting the other food groups to hit nutrition recommendations, would delay or avert 36,910 deaths (5). So all areas are pointing towards a whole-food, plant-based diet.
In terms of protein, whether you’re eating all the foods highlighted in the post or everything bar red meat, wherever you lie, try to move down to the lower contributing foods. Whether that includes the above tactic of reducing the foods, or if you’re ready to make a bigger difference - cutting out certain foods completely. Clearly, vegans and vegetarians have a lower contribution when compared to that above stat for high meat eaters of 7.19kg of daily GHGe. Vegetarians contribute 3.81 and vegans only 2.89 (4). The most important thing is that you are aware of the amount you consume, the impact it has and are empowered with options to deal with it. Of course, there are other ways you can help in terms of food. Waste is a huge issue, as is eating out of season foods but these are topics for another post. We have 3 votes a day to decide whether we want to help or harm our planet, make your meals count.
So, what simple changes are you going to do to help save our planet?
As always, don’t take our word for it, check out the evidence for yourself:
1. Murakami K, Livingstone M. Greenhouse gas emissions of self-selected diets in the UK and their association with diet quality: is energy under-reporting a problem? Nutr J.. 2018;17(1):27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5822528/
2. Vermeulen SJ, Campbell BM, Ingram JS. Climate change and food systems. Annual review of environment and resources. 2012 Nov 21;37:195-222.
3. Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations. Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock. October 21, 2014. http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm.
4. Scarborough P, Appleby P, Mizdrak A et al. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Clim Change.. 2014;125(2):179-92. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-014-1169-1
5. Scarborough P, Allender S, Clarke D et al. Modelling the health impact of environmentally sustainable dietary scenarios in the UK. Eur J Clin Nutr.. 2012;66(6):710-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3389618/