Climate change is wreaking havoc on our food supply, and it’s only going to get worse. As droughts, floods, and heat waves become more common, crop yields are expected to decline, leading to higher food prices and increased hunger. Climate change could cause as many as 132 million additional people to be hungry by 2050. What’s more, climate change is also making our food less nutritious. As CO2 levels rise, plants grow faster but contain fewer nutrients. A study published in Nature found that between 1961 and 2011, the nutritional content of wheat declined by 8.1 percent, while the nutritional content of rice declined by 6.6 percent. So what can we do to reduce our impact on the climate and ensure that everyone has enough to eat? You don't have to go full-on vegan to make a difference when it comes to climate change – although that would be ideal. If you're not quite ready to commit to a plant-based diet, there are still a few things you can do to reduce your impact on the climate.
Below are 10 diet changes you can make to help mitigate climate change and pursue a more sustainable, plant-based diet.
1. Ditch dairy
Dairy products are one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Consider reducing your consumption of dairy, or better yet, eliminating it entirely. Not only will this help the environment, but it's also healthier for you! Dairy specifically contributes to climate change in a few ways. First, cows emit large quantities of methane gas through belching and flatulence. Methane is about 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so this is a significant contribution to climate change. Second, dairy farming requires large amounts of land and water. Clearing land for pasture or feed crops destroys natural habitats and emits carbon dioxide. And the growing demand for dairy means that more and more land is being converted to dairy farms. Finally, dairy farming requires a lot of energy to power the machinery used in milking and processing, as well as to keep the cows comfortable in climate-controlled barns. Choose low-impact dairy products. If you do consume dairy, opt for products that have a lower environmental impact. For example, choose milk from pasture-raised cows rather than those raised on factory farms. Support sustainable dairy farmers. Another way to reduce your impact is to support dairy farmers who are working to minimize their carbon footprint.
2. Cut down on meat
Eating meat is one of the leading causes of climate change. The production of beef generates more greenhouse gases than any other food, and the livestock sector as a whole is responsible for around 15% of global emissions. Cut out beef: If you want to make a big impact, start by cutting beef out of your diet. Eat less processed food: Processed foods are often high in emissions due to the amount of energy and resources that go into their production. So, try to eat more whole, unprocessed foods.
3. Think about alternative proteins
There are other sources of protein besides meat and dairy. Eat more beans, legumes, and lentils. These powerhouses are packed with protein and fiber, and they're extremely versatile. You can add them to soups, salads, burgers, or even bake with them. Consider beans, tofu, seitan, tempeh, and other plant-based proteins. Fish are a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, and they have a relatively low carbon footprint. Choose sustainably caught fish to further reduce your impact. Incorporate quinoa into your diet. This grain is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. It's also extremely versatile and can be used in sweet or savory dishes. Eat more nuts and seeds. Almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are all great sources of protein. You can snack on them alone or add them to trail mix, oatmeal, and more.
4. Look for products that prioritise their environmental footprint
When you're grocery shopping, take into account the environmental costs of the food you're buying. Choose products that have a lower carbon footprint. For example, buy organic produce, which is grown without harmful pesticides and fertilisers. Organic foods are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, which can be harmful to the environment. They also tend to be produced on smaller farms, which have a lower carbon footprint than large-scale industrial operations. Look out for the following labels to ensure they pursue sustainable operations such as:
- Certified organic
- Fair trade
- Marine Stewardship Council
- Rainforest Alliance
5. Eat seasonally.
Eating seasonally means eating food that is grown and harvested during the same season. Not only does this reduce transportation emissions, but it also helps you eat fresher, more nutrient-rich food. To properly eat seasonal foods, you should first figure out what is in season in your area. You can do this by checking online resources or asking your local farmer. Once you know what is in season, try to incorporate these foods into your diet as much as possible. Seasonal foods are often more affordable than out-of-season options, so this is a great way to save money as well. Lastly, don't forget to enjoy the food you're eating! Seasonal produce is delicious and nutritious, so take the time to savor every bite. Some foods that are season-specific include:
Summer: watermelon, tomatoes, zucchini, corn, berries. mangoes
Autumn: squash, sweet potatoes, apples, pears, kale
Winter: Brussels sprouts, carrots, turnips, oranges, grapefruit
Spring: asparagus, peas, artichokes, spinach.
6. Be a locavore:
Buy locally grown food whenever possible. Not only is it better for the environment, but it also supports your local economy. If you have the space, consider growing your fruits and vegetables. This way, you'll know exactly where your food comes from and how it was grown. Plus, homegrown produce generally has a lower carbon footprint than store-bought options. Farmers' markets are a great way to get locally grown, seasonal produce. This produce often has a lower carbon footprint than store-bought options because it doesn't have to be transported as far. When you go grocery shopping, bring your bags so you don't have to use plastic or paper ones. This will reduce the amount of waste you produce, and it's better for the environment.
7. Get wasted:
Food waste is a huge problem, and it has a significant impact on climate change. An estimated 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year, which emits approximately 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases. That's equivalent to the emissions from all passenger cars in the world! There are a few simple things you can do to reduce your food waste:
- Whenever possible, choose unpackaged options to avoid unnecessary waste. Bring your own bags to the grocery store and dispensable items like Tupperware for leftovers.
- Reduce food waste by composting or donating uneaten food to a local food bank.
- Buy only what you need
- Store food properly to extend its shelf life
8. Compost your food scraps
This is a great way to reduce food waste and it's also beneficial for the environment. Composting helps to improve soil health, which can sequester carbon and help fight climate change. 8. Buy in bulk: Buying in bulk can help you save money and reduce packaging waste. When possible, choose items that are sold in bulk or that you can refill. For example, buy a reusable container for laundry detergent instead of single-use plastic bottles. A few composting tools you can check out include:
- Home composting bin
- Worm farm
- Bokashi bucket
- Green cone digester
- Commercial composting service
9. Educate yourself and others
Learn about the environmental impacts of our food choices and share this knowledge with others. The more people are informed, the more likely they are to make changes in their own diets. There are a number of ways to learn about the impacts of our food choices:
- Read books and articles on the subject
- Watch documentaries or films
- Attend lectures or workshops
- Engage in online discussion forums
10. Keep it up!
Making environmentally friendly dietary choices is a lifelong commitment. Persevere and don't give up! There will be challenges along the way, but the more effort you put in, the more rewards you'll reap. Not to mention, you'll be doing your part to help fight climate change.
Whilst you don't have to transition to a completely plant-based diet, they have been shown to have numerous health benefits, including lower rates of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. They can also be nutritionally superior to animal-based diets, providing more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Pursuing a plant-based diet is an excellent way to improve your health and reduce your impact on the climate.