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Don't just go green - eat green!

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Bowl of vegetables

We’ve all heard that we should “go green” to save our planet - that is, recycle, save energy, save water, and so on. But what about eating green? It turns out that eating more plant based foods could actually help reduce our ever-growing carbon footprint.

But what does our diet have to do with carbon emissions? As it turns out, a lot. A study published in 2021 found that animal based diets cause twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as plant based diets, with production of beef being a top contributor (Xu et al. 2021). Cutting back on dairy could be useful as well, as cows burp out the greenhouse gas methane (Allen 2023). But there’s another, subtler problem that a lot of people don’t even know about.

“Are we aware that 22 percent of all the food that’s grown is wasted because of our desire to eat meat that’s produced in an industrial setting?” asks scientist Nick Hewitt in an interview with Malnutrition Deeply. Hewitt brings to light an issue that not many people consider - food that humans can eat, like corn, is fed to livestock instead. These animals don’t even completely digest this plant matter, and calories are therefore wasted when these animals provide to humans only a fraction of their own caloric intake. Think about it this way - if these animals don’t even provide the same amount of calories they consume, we need even more of the meat to satisfy our diet! The more meat produced, the more greenhouse gas emissions from factors such as the maintenance of animal farms and methane produced from animals such as cows.

Furthermore, 14% of grown crops are converted into biofuel, which provides less than one percent of our energy needs. “Policymakers need to think through these things and see where the levers are,” says Hewitt. And he’s not wrong. There are already greenhouse gas emissions involved in growing this food through factors such as farm management, and for a significant amount of the food to be lost in this way is a big deal.

So the big question; what would happen if we cut out meat from our diet completely? According to Hewitts team, it would reduce food related greenhouse gas emissions by more than one third (Allen 2023). That’s right. More than one third!

Of course, a worldwide switch to veganism or even vegetarianism is impossible. There are many individuals who are simply unable to cut out meat from their diet and still live a healthy lifestyle, and a change in diet should never be forced upon anyone. But those who are able to significantly reduce their meat consumption and still maintain a proper diet should consider doing so for the sake of our planet. One doesn’t even need to completely cut out meat to make a difference - according to Hewitts team, even switching to pork or chicken could reduce emissions by 18% (Allen 2023). You might think that just one person changing their diet won’t make a difference, but every small action we take counts.

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