Can your dinner actually save the world?

Updated: a day ago

Art by Morgan Eun

Melting ice caps, starving polar bears, and extreme weather are all poster children of climate change; the looming concern troubling the minds of scientists and people everywhere. But the food on your dinner plate? Climate change and your next meal don’t seem to go hand in hand. The truth is, food production makes up over a third of all man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide — the nasty things that are causing starving polar bears, hurricanes, and rising sea levels. The food system, including tractors, transport, packing materials, and your fridge, has severe impacts on its escalation. Your next meal is full of hidden consequences for the future of our planet. What can you do about it? Can your dinner actually save the world?

The Facts

We currently live in a world where our passion for meat means that we globally consume around 350 million tons of meat each year. The thing is, meat requires more water, energy, and land to produce than any other food source. According to the New York Times article Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered, meat and dairy products (especially from cows) account for around 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases each year. That’s almost the same amount of greenhouse gases emitted from cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships across the world combined.

Image by Flash Dantz via Unplash

The most effective way of fighting this problem is to introduce a plant-based diet into the widely practiced meat-based diet we hold today. As stated before, meat requires water to produce. One pound of beef requires 2,000 to 8,000 gallons of water to produce. If we eliminated animal products from our diets, we would be saving at least 50% of our water use globally. Reducing our meat intake would also significantly reduce our carbon footprint.

Although going vegan is a great choice of action, it isn’t your only option to eat sustainably. Some experts have argued that cutting out meat completely is not necessary for a human-healthy and planet-healthy diet. It is also notable to point out that animal agriculture is the main livelihood of more than 1.3 billion people worldwide, and its products provide the needed nutrition that is unavailable for people in other sources. But in some countries, people over-consume the amount of needed protein per day. Over-consumption of meat is not only detrimental to the planet, but it also comes with a cost to human health. Unfortunately, the demand for animal products is only growing. In wealthy countries like America, where there is more flexibility to choose what food you’d like to eat, consuming less meat and dairy will have the largest impact on climate change.

The book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming outlines many solutions to reduce our impacts, and places a planet-rich diet as the 4th most efficient solution (with refrigeration, onshore wind turbines, and reduced food waste placing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd). The book mentions the term “reducetarianism,” something that stuck with me as I researched food and climate change. Reducetarianism focuses on reducing or cutting down your consumption of meat, fish, dairy, and eggs instead of limiting them completely. Drawdown states that we should “promote” reducetarianism to keep meat as something eaten occasionally instead of as a meal staple.

So, how can I eat sustainably?

Learning about a sustainable diet is one thing, but knowing how to do it, and what to eat, is another. Eating sustainably can vary with different diets (going vegan is the best diet for the planet), but here are five things to look out for when eating sustainably.

Art by Scott Warman via Unsplash