If you’re one of the 25 percent of Americans who’s extremely worried about the threat of climate change but not sure how to lower your own carbon footprint, consider starting with your diet this new year.
The type of food you buy and eat doesn’t just affect your health; it also shapes a global food system that’s responsible for more than one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, animal products have a higher carbon footprint because of the methane some animals produce, the inefficiencies of growing livestock feed and the vast amounts of land needed to raise animals. The world’s livestock industry emits more greenhouse gases than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined, according to United Nations University.
Here are five New Year’s Resolutions you can make to reduce your own demand for food that has a negative impact on the environment — thus becoming part of the solution to the Earth’s rising temperatures.
1. Become a climatarian
A climatarian is someone who eats with climate change in mind, generally by cutting out food whose cultivation contributes to global warming. Here’s how The New York Times defined the term in its list of new food words from 2015:
CLIMATARIAN (n.) A diet whose primary goal is to reverse climate change. This includes eating locally produced food (to reduce energy spent in transportation), choosing pork and poultry instead of beef and lamb (to limit gas emissions), and using every part of ingredients (apple cores, cheese rinds, etc.) to limit food waste.
Climates, a climate-focused social network that’s credited with bringing the term into prominence, identifies climatarians more specifically, defining them as “meat eaters who don’t eat ruminant meat – beef, sheep, goat and deer.” Ruminant animals are identified by their unique four-compartment digestive tract, which through an anaerobic fermentation process emits startling amounts of methane and nitrous oxide. To put it less elegantly, these animals are farting and burping out destructive greenhouse gases.
“While we all need to eat less meat, you don’t have to give up meat entirely and you can still enjoy pig meat, poultry and fish for an easy mixed diet,” Climates explains in its guide to being a climatarian.
2. Become a reducetarian
Think of being a reducetarian as the “make-your-own-rules” version of climatarianism. The focus is on eating less meat, whether by cutting it out entirely or establishing your own limits. The term was first coined by Brian Kateman, who realized that uniting climate-minded eaters and hardcore vegetarians could inspire a bigger movement. He gave a TEDx talk on his idea last year:
“The most effective question we can ask is not how can we increase the amount of vegetarians and vegans, but rather, how can we reduce the amount of meat consumed?” Kateman told The Huffington Post in March. “Part of the problem with the vegan and vegetarian messaging is that it resonates with many people as an all-or-nothing commitment, that the only way to contribute to the environmental, animal welfare and health movement is to completely eliminate meat from a diet.”
You can become a reducetarian by taking Kateman’s 30-day pledge to eat less meat or by giving it a go on your own, whether by ordering your next pizza without meat toppings or eliminating meat from your grocery list and indulging only at restaurants.
3. Choose organic
By buying organic, you’ll be supporting farms whose practices emit less carbon and actually help to absorb emissions.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines organic farming as using methods that “preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics.” The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization endorses the practice as a way to reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint.
“Organic agriculture can be part of the solution to mitigate GHG gases through farming practices that build soil fertility, avoid use of synthetic fertilizer and improve carbon sequestration” or the soil’s ability to absorb the excess carbon warming the planet, FOA reports.
The Rodale Institute, a nonprofit that funds research on organic farming, found that “more than 40% of annual emissions could potentially be captured” if all the world’s cropland were managed with organic practices.
4. Participate in Veganuary
If you want to make up for other people’s less eco-friendly diets by ditching animal products altogether but aren’t sure if you’re ready to commit, try it for a month and re-evaluate when it’s over.
Veganuary, a U.K.-based nonprofit, encourages people to try veganism for the month of January and provides them with a vegan starter kit, complete with meal plans, eating-out tips and a label-reading guide. The same concept can be applied to going vegetarian or cutting out the most climate-offending animal products for a month.
Even if you end the challenge after a month, you’re still making a noteworthy dent in your annual carbon footprint. And chances are you’ll emerge with a newfound appreciation for plant-based meals.
“I learned so much about food, and more importantly, I learned a lot about myself,” BuzzFeed’s Javier Moreno wrote after attempting a vegan month last year. “Since then I have reverted to my meat-eating ways. I don’t think I’ll ever be fully vegan, but since the challenge I am eating more vegan food, and I don’t need meat to complete a meal.”
5. Schedule your consumption of animal products
When The New York Times’ Mark Bittman decided to limit his consumption of animal products, he found that setting aside vegan hours every day was much more feasible. The idea laid the foundation for his book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health…for Good.
Bittman explained to HuffPost in 2013 how he came to the realization:
There is no science to the “before 6” part. The science is more plants; the strategy is VB6, so why dinner? The answer is: because we like to have fun at night. It’s completely pragmatic. If I say to you, I want you to eat all your protein in the morning — all your carbs, I want you to have pasta with carbonara at 7 am, I want you to get all that stuff out of the way and then I want you to eat fruits and vegetables for the rest of the day, what happens when you go out at night with your friends? A) you’re going to have a drink, which means your willpower is already shot. And B) your friends are going to start teasing you, which means you’ll say “Ok, fine, I’ll have a hamburger.”
People looking to cut back on animal products, whether for their health or for the sake of the environment, have found similar success with schedule constraints on vegan or vegetarian diets, such as weekday vegetarianism or Meatless Mondays.
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