The soil, the vegetation and the oceans, through the absorption of carbon dioxide, play an essential role in the mitigation of the greenhouse effect. However, this function is compromised by the impact of human activities on the environment. Yes, you probably already know that because this is nothing new. But just to give you an example, as highlighted by the IPCC report, Climate Change and Land, 23% of greenhouse gas emissions of human origin come from agriculture, forestry and other land uses.
Agriculture uses 40% of the Earth’s land area, it is responsible for about half of anthropogenic methane emissions and is the main source of nitrous oxide. It is the primary driver of deforestation, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss. But it gets worse: according the 2020 report Diets For a Better Future, “Global food production is the single largest human pressure on Earth, threatening local ecosystems, driving a sixth mass extinction of species, and impacting the stability of the entire Earth system.” We are literally eating the planet.
The report addressed issues related to food security and sustainable land management, highlighting how food production is responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, equalling the contribution made by electricity generation and exceeding that of industry. It may sound like a euphemism, but the way we feed ourselves is devouring the planet. Since 1960, the consumption of meat has doubled, that of calories per capita has increased by about a third and the use of fertilisers in agriculture by about 9 times.
We cannot continue like this. I believe a more conscious "philosophy of food" is more than necessary now. It does not mean adhering to some kind of label or trend, but reaching the awareness that each of our small choices leaves its mark - sometimes even deeper than we think.
The Diets For a Better Future report demonstrates that the dietary choices in G20 countries are destroying the planet. Global progression towards current G20 food consumption patterns is incompatible with emissions reduction targets set under the Paris Agreement. Keeping up these national dietary guidelines would require between one to seven Earths to support. I think we all understand the absurdity of this.
The good news is that, through our choices, the trend can be reversed. We can really make a difference. Numerous recent studies have shown that a global change geared towards healthier and more sustainable eating patterns can help to fight climate change, improve human health and food safety, reduce the loss of biodiversity and save lives by containing the risks of future pandemics and creating economic benefits
A change of course would have indeed important positive effects on the environment. It is assumed that the transition to a healthier diet could lead to a reduction of 1.8 - 3.4 billion tons of CO2. In tandem, a low-environmental-impact diet also has benefits for our own health. A large body of evidence has emerged on the environmental impacts of various diets, with most studies concluding that “a diet rich in healthy plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”
Now the question is: how can we choose and follow a diet that respects the environment and its resources? Personally, I strongly believe in the “everything in moderation” philosophy. Our choices must always be based on the search for balance and the right measure. It also applies to the consumption of meat. The figures speak for themselves: meat production is responsible for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions and the occupational area of pastures corresponds to 26% of the planet's land surface not covered by glaciers. However, I personally believe the solution is not to completely eliminate animal proteins from our diet, but to consume them responsibly. This means, for example, knowing what kind of meat we eat and what farm it comes from, preferring local farms that also take into account animal welfare. Any extreme solution creates an imbalance and only carries the problem from one place to another.
Knowing the carbon footprint (production of greenhouse gases) of different foods allows us to better understand how the food choices we make have consequences on the environment that surrounds us. In addition, it guides us to better choose what food to prioritize in order to eat healthily and sustainablly every day. Common sense should always be the basis of our choices, as well as knowledge of the problems that lie behind any agri-food production.
Written by Miriam Tagini