Flexitarian, Vegetarian, Vegan, Omnivore: Food habits have an impact on climate change


The latest annual food and drink report published by the supermarket chain Waitrose on November 1 (Vegan Day) revealed that one in eight Britons is now vegetarian or vegan, with a further 21% that claim to be flexitarian (i.e. having a largely vegetable-based diet that is supplemented occasionally with meat). About 60% of vegans and 40% of vegetarians surveyed said they had adopted the lifestyle over the past five years, with 55% citing animal welfare concerns, 45% health reasons and 38% environmental issues. The report comes as food choices assume an increasingly important role in the debate over countering climate change. A recent study by the University of Oxford, in fact, suggests that avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet. Another study conducted by Carbon Trust revealed that each person in the UK has an annual carbon footprint (1) of 11 tonnes of CO2 and equivalent (CO2e) and about a fifth of the average personal carbon footprint comes from food. To understand the carbon emissions from food production, all the carbon-emitting processes that occur as a result of getting food from the field to our plates need to be considered:

·       Production: Farms generate a large proportion of the emissions from food production as a result of processes including deforestation, fertiliser production and use, and livestock management.

·       Origin: Transporting food around and storing it generates emissions. However, this activity also has the potential to make the food industry more efficient and cost-effective by providing food where and when it is required.

·       Seasonality: Growing food out of season, either in the UK or overseas, can be a high-carbon method of production. Seasonal food tends to have a lower carbon footprint.

·       Home care: Food waste in the home directly increases emissions as extra food production and expense is required in order to replace wasted food.

When considering the above processes there are few simple actions that can be taken and have a positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions:

1.    Less and better: By cutting meat consumption from 100 grams of meat a day to less than 50 grams a day, the food-related emissions would fall by a third. That would save almost a tonne of CO2 each year, about as much as an economy return flight between London and New York. Pasture-raised animal products are often more expensive than the conventional, but have a lower footprint. The best choice is to buy organic, pastured-raised meat. Dairy is often forgotten but it also has a significant carbon footprint. According to a recent report by the UN’S Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, the production of milk and dairy products accounts for 2.7 per cent of global emissions of greenhouse gases. Reducing milk and dairy products and choosing organic contribute to CO2 reduction.

2.    Look for local and seasonal. Buying local produce means that transportation is minimised and therefore its carbon footprint is. By purchasing seasonal products, emissions related to long-distance sourcing are avoided as well.

3.     Plan your meals. An estimated 7.3m tonnes of household food waste was thrown away in 2015 in the UK according to WRAP. Planning meals, buying less and more frequently can help reduce food waste and therefore the greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production and transport.

For further reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/21/giving-up-beef-reduce-carbon-footprint-more-than-cars; https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2018-03/Food_in_a_warming_world_report.PDF; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth

For vegan and vegetarian recipes: https://www.101cookbooks.com; https://www.tinnedtomatoes.com