5 Ways plant-based nutrition can tackle climate change
Climate activist and global campaign coordinator at Plant Based Treaty Anita Krajnc explores the role of plant-based food in fighting climate change
Food accounts for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions and yet does not yet get the attention it deserves. Years ago, Al Gore told vegan musician Moby that "the relationship between meat and dairy production and climate change is the real inconvenient truth."
With global meat consumption per capita on the rise, the truth is, we need to break these bad habits before they break us. Here are our five ways plant-based nutrition can tackle climate change.
Eat more plants
Did you know that one of the easiest and most effective ways to lower your carbon footprint is to eat a plant-based diet? NASA climate scientist and Scientist Rebellion organiser Peter Kalmus, well known for locking himself to the entrance to JP Morgan Chase in Los Angeles over fossil fuel investments, documented his own personal experiment in low-energy living in Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution.
"One of the easiest and most effective ways to lower your carbon footprint is to eat a plant-based diet"
He was able to reduce his personal carbon footprint tenfold, from a whopping 20 to two tons per year, by some radical lifestyle changes. Kalmus is vegan, bikes to work, doesn’t fly, is a keen gardener and food grower, dumpster dives and hangs his clothes out to dry. He also found living mindfully and emitting less has made him feel happier and even halved his food bill. Kalmus says it’s possible for the average person to cut their emissions in half relatively easily. The average meat eater in the US emits 3,000kg CO2e per year compared to 1,500kg for vegetarians and 1,000kg for vegans.
Growing your own food
The most delicious foods are the ones that you grow yourself, such as kale, zucchini, sweet potatoes, berries and perennials such as arugula. Some of the juiciest strawberries to tickle my tastebuds were grown at home last summer in hanging baskets using organic seeds.
Surprisingly, when it comes to emissions, what you eat matters more than how far it’s travelled, with the lowest-impact animal-based foods emitting more harmful greenhouse gases than the highest-impact plant-based alternatives. So if you are able to eat locally grown seasonal produce, it is a double win for the planet.
As well as an abundance of nutritious, cheap and delicious foods, growing my own food has allowed me to get to know my neighbours. We share seeds, wisdom, and an abundance of hearty allotment soup. Composting food scraps and yard waste diverts green matter from landfills that produce the potent greenhouse gas methane and instead can help build healthy, resilient soil.
Plant wildflowers and fruit trees like apples, pears, figs and lemons to boost biodiversity and reduce air pollution. We need 20–25 per cent of every 1 km of urban environments to be covered by greenery, so that insects can move from one location to another.
"Plant wildflowers and fruit trees to boost biodiversity and reduce air pollution"
You don’t need a lot of space to rewild. I made a pond in my garden from old bucket. Within six months, I spotted the noses of three frogs who decided to move in. Globally, our meat and dairy heavy diet use around half of habitable land on Earth to produce food. However, with plant-based diets we could feed the world with one quarter of the land, allowing us to return vast areas of land to nature.
Host a vegan potluck
It is much more than a gathering for a meal; it's a catalyst for community building, education, and collective action in the fight against climate change.
There’s nothing like bringing people together over a shared meal and conversation. You can discover new plant-based foods and learn how your food choices impact the environment.
Become a climate activist
Beyond your own individual lifestyle choices, you can also spark change in your community. Your voice can influence big decisions, like food choices in schools, care homes, hospitals and public events.
Take inspiration from New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams. He reversed his type 2 diabetes by switching to a whole food plant-based diet, and is now transforming NYC with Meat Free Mondays and Plant Powered Fridays in schools, plus healthy plant-based defaults in hospitals.
"Beyond your own individual lifestyle choices, you can also spark change in your community"
Local politicians are generally more responsive to citizen pressure and often engage more with grassroots efforts compared to national politicians. So, write letters, make calls, and show up at council meetings and create surprising ripple effects in climate action.
All told, the environmental group Project Drawdown showed that when you add the emissions from animal farming to other food emissions like deforestation and food waste, it turns out that what we eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is actually the greatest cause of global warming along with the energy sector. If we are serious about saving the planet, a good place to start is with ourselves and our local communities. Make 2024 the year to make eating plants and planting trees contagious.
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter
Loading up next...