Sustainable Diet: What is a Healthy and Sustainable Diet
13 minute read
Updated on Mon Apr 05 2021
How can you, as an individual, contribute to solving climate change? Can the actions of one person really make a difference to our planet? In this course, we will be exploring the ways in which an individual can reduce their carbon footprint and consider how effective such actions will be in our fight to solve climate change. First of all, let's look at how what we eat impacts the world around us.
Our diet has a big influence on climate change, as 26% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions come from the production and distribution of food. This includes the transport and packaging of food. It should be noted, however, that the transport of food only makes up a small proportion of these emissions, accounting for only 6% of emissions from food production in the EU and 5.1% in the US.
(Note: the supply chain includes food processing (converting produce from the farm into final products), transport, retail and packaging.)
Should we change our diets?
(Note: while growing nuts produces more greenhouse gases than some other plant-based foods, replacing cropland with nut trees increases the absorption of carbon from the atmosphere, thus lowering the total net emissions from the final product.)
One way to reduce your carbon footprint is to adopt a largely plant-based diet. By removing animal products from our diets, greenhouse gas emissions from the food sector could be reduced by nearly 50%.
How does our food get to our plates?
While the transport of food makes up only a small proportion of emissions (only 6% of emissions from the average diets in the EU and 5.1% in the US), it still is an easy area in which to reduce emissions from the food supply chain.
What can we do to reduce emissions from food transport and processing?
- Avoid food that is transported by air - transport by short-haul aircraft emits around 1,700 gCO₂/t-km. By comparison, transport by sea produces the smallest amount of greenhouse gas emissions per km at around 2 g CO₂/t-km.
- Go to the source - avoid processed foods, as food processing and packaging uses lots of energy.
How much do food miles matter?
Clearly, how far your food has travelled is not a reliable indicator of the carbon footprint of your food. Indeed, for beef production, transportation typically accounts for less than 1% of emissions! In this case, it is not the location of where you buy your meat which makes its carbon footprint high, but the meat itself.
How bad is food waste?
Therefore, we must not only think about the types of food we eat, but also about how much we buy and throw away.
Can we make meat without using animals?
Cultured meat, which is meat created from stem cells, has substantially lower greenhouse gas emissions, land requirements, and water usage than livestock. You can find out more about cultured meat in our Food and Farming course!
Our diet is an important part of our lives as well as our impact on the environment. By adopting a more sustainable diet, we can play our part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.Next Chapter