On a yearly basis, we as humans consume about 230m tonnes of animals – twice as much as we did barely 30 years ago. As global population is on the rise and estimated to increase to almost 10 billion in 2050, food resources will become scarcer. Thus, to enable food provision within the limitations of our planet’s resources, reconsidering our current food culture and our individual food choices becomes inevitable.
Food production and its emissions
Looking at our eating habits from a global point of view, our food industry reveals itself as one of the main contributors to worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. More than a quarter of our global emissions are caused by the processes and activities related to our food consumption.
Opposed to widely spread assumptions, most greenhouse gas emissions are thereby not stemming from transport, but rather from agricultural processes, such as land usage, deforestation and farming.1 Animal products in particular present a great share of where these emissions are resulting from.
Global emissions and a breakdown
The vegetarian approach
In a study2 by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) who evaluated the sustainability impact of eating meat-free, suggested that vegetarian/vegan diets are responsible for almost 50% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and had a 41.5% smaller environmental footprint compared to diets including meat. The research addressed the topic using a life-cycle assessment approach and included data from a variety of agricultural methods, from animal feed to harvest practices. The production of poultry, pork and beef requires significantly larger amounts of resources, such as water and crop, and land is being used less efficiently. Worldwide, 83% of all agricultural land is utilised for the production of animal products, whilst at the same time it only provides 18% of all calories consumed. Additionally, food production plays a large role in deforestation, as these lands are cleared to provide new areas for livestock grazing.
Emphasising the importance of a plant-based diet, instead of a meat-free approach, a recent study3 from the John Hopkins University (JHU) concluded that though a vegetarian diet strives towards decreasing its dietary carbon footprint, its followers often reach to dairy products to supplement their diet. As dairy products are not far behind a meat-based diet in terms of environmental impact, the carbon footprint of a vegetarian diet is only fractionally improved.
In short, both studies suggest that a shift towards a predominantly plant-based diet present a significant opportunity to improve our ecological footprint and tackle climate change. While reducing or eliminating meat can therefore be of great importance, decreasing the consumption of other dairy products should likewise be taken into consideration.
The individual’s food choice
While many actions to combat climate change are dependent on the influence of governments, industries or organisations, food consumption is an area which we as individuals can have a measurable impact on. Decreasing meat consumption, reducing eggs and cheese or focusing on reducing food waste can all be of significance.
We at Nexio Projects believe that your food choices play a significant role in working towards our climate goals. Looking beyond vegetarianism, we have started to include the Vegan Wednesday in our weekly routine and share an open communication about the environmental impact of our food choices and how we can include these within our daily lives. Moreover, we recently picked up a partnership with GreenPoint Trading to counteract food waste, whereby our office is provided with leftover vegetables and fruits.
About the Author(s)
Kristina Mohme is Sustainability Facilitator at Nexio Projects.