At nomel, we encourage our community to be healthy and environmentally-conscious, and half of that journey begins with gaining a deeper understanding and knowledge of ourselves and our planet. Today’s topic is a little more serious but one that we have always been passionate about, so lend us 7 minutes (the amount of time it’ll take for you to read this article) of your undivided attention, because this is an important ongoing global issue that you want to stay informed on.
When talking about environmental welfare, most people are under the impression that ‘helping the environment’ means taking public transport to reduce car emissions, or only using low energy consumption light bulbs; and while that may be true, as far back as 2008, climate science experts have cautioned against the repercussions of agriculture as the true culprit, finding that a change in dietary consumption could lower emissions at a great extent. With that being said, in the past decade, the world at large has been educating itself on the betterment of diet and sustainability, growing more aware of how closely linked the food we eat is to the environment in which we live, and how the two affect one another. With the gradual exhaustion of Earth’s resources and the undeniably apparent association between disease and poor nutrition, finding a way of living which promotes human and environmental welfare is a key concern we can no longer ignore.
The fact of the matter is, the current impact of food production on our planet is out of control (and that is putting it lightly). The livestock sector alone is responsible for 18% of the planet’s emissions, a number that’s higher than the percentage of pollution the world’s transportation produces, not to mention it’s a huge devastation of our soil and water resources just to raise these livestock. There are at least three damaging ways in which the environment is significantly affected by our diets – greenhouse gas emissions, land use and eutrophication (in simpler terms, the pollution of water sources through animal waste and fertilizers). In total, the environmental cost of food production, from growing crops and livestock, to manufacturing and transporting food onto our plates amounts to a staggering 30% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, another 33% of ice-free land is being used to farm or grow food.
One main reason as to why these numbers are so shockingly high is that sustainable food models have not been enforced on any institutional much less international agenda, and another explanation is simply that despite our rising awareness of these issues, our concern does not always lead to any real change in behavior, as these issues may not feel tangible to us. Thus, the only way to drastically reduce our carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions is to start with our diet, and adopt sustainable eating habits which can also boost our health. Recent studies have also found that if citizens in 28 different high-income countries such as the United States and Japan followed a diet which cut down on meat, fish, and dairy, greenhouse gases related to food production would drop by 25%, and land use by 17%. What all this boils down to is simple: a healthier diet leads to a healthier environment.
The good news here is that the foods that are most detrimental to the environment are also the foods we should be eating less of anyway. In the same vein, the foods that are healthy are those with a lower environmental impact. (Translation: Less meat, dairy, and processed foods, more grains, vegetables and fruits.) In fact, diseases related to diet (such as cancer, cardio-respiratory disorders, diabetes) and ‘diseases of the planet’ (such as global warming, the poisoning of the water and soil,) share one commonality, and that is: the mass production of food in ways that are not sustainable, resulting in the widespread adoption of unhealthy diets that are also not sustainable, and thus leading us to confront the various health and environmental problems we face today.
Numerous studies throughout the years have shown with certainty that the North American diet (rich in meat, dairy, fats, processed foods, high in sugar and low in nutrients), is not only the basis of many modern diseases, but also harmful to our planet. Instead, we should opt for a proper balanced diet like the Mediterranean diet, which includes pasta, vegetables, fruits, and olive oil, proven to promote better health and well-being, with an environmental impact that is 60% lower than the North American diet. For those who are not ready to say goodbye to meat just yet, companies like Future Meat who offer groundbreaking solutions exist for this very reason. So, the main takeaway from reading all this, is we can all agree to try cutting down on meat (especially red meat), for the health of your own person and also for the planet. While some of you may want to try a vegetarian or vegan diet (which is even better, trust us, more on this in the future), a general rule of thumb to remember is just to try to eat as low down on the food pyramid as possible (that means eating your vegetables, fruits, grains and beans), and know that each time you make the decision to do so, you’re fighting the good fight, one meal at a time.