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Eating Local + Eating Less Meat = The Green(er) Diet

Why eating local and eating less meat is essential in fighting climate change

Some cows in France
Beef is one of the most notorious climate offenders, emitting 60 kilograms of greenhouse gas per kilogram

Source: Annie Spratt [6]

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Jakarta — Here's food your thought: how often do you wonder where your next meal comes from, whether it's actually good for you, or how your diet is affecting the planet?

It's hard to believe, but our global food system is responsible for around 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of water use and 50% of land use, and yet there are still as many as 815 million people worldwide undernourished [1]. A third of our global produce is carelessly thrown away, either through food loss or food waste, for reasons ranging from lack of proper infrastructure, poor storage facilities to high cosmetic standards [2].

The implications are clear: our global food system is costly, inefficient and as a result, harmful for our planet. But more importantly, all of these signal the need for large systemic changes in how we eat and the sooner we do this, the better.

Eat Local vs. Eat Less Meat

Over the years, many have offered their version of what a sustainable diet looks like. For example, in 2007, the New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year was locavore, which showed the growing movement towards eating locally-sourced food. Ever since then, the adage—eat local—has stuck around, not only because it's healthier, but also the idea that it's good for the environment since lower food miles should lead to lower emissions [3].

But there's also a group of people on the other side of the spectrum who argue that what you eat is much more important than whether or not your food is local.

In fact, a study from the Journal of Environment and Technology in 2008 found that skipping beef and dairy products once a week could reduce greenhouse gas emissions more effectively than buying all of your groceries from local sources [4].

So, Which One Is The Better Option?

Greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain
Transport accounts for less than 10% of most food product's carbon footprint

Source: Our World in Data [1]

Take a look at the chart above, which examines 29 food products, and how much greenhouse gas emissions each stage in the supply chain produces. As you can see, most of our food emissions come from processes on the farm (brown) and changes in land use (green) while only a small fraction comes from transport (red), accounting for less than 10% of most food product's carbon footprint.

"Eating locally would only have a significant impact if transport was responsible for a large of food's final carbon footprint. For most food, this is not the case," writes Hannah Ritchie [1].

It's been widely known that animal-based foods have a higher carbon footprint than plant-based foods, with beef consistently sitting on the top of the list. This is because we need significant amounts of land, water and feed to sustain our livestock, not to mention the amount of methane released by ruminants. To paint a bigger picture, one kilogram of beef emits around 60 kilograms of greenhouse gas, whereas peas emit just one kilogram of greenhouse gas per kilogram. That's sixty times higher!

Translation: What you choose to eat (or not eat) is more important than how far your food has travelled.

However, this doesn't necessarily mean you should rule out eating local just yet. It's worth noting that although transport is a small fraction of our food emissions, air-freighted foods are an entirely different case. Despite comprising only 0.16% of our total food, their emissions can be very high. As a matter of fact, they emit 50 times more carbon dioxide than boats per kilometre [1]. Hence, reducing or even eliminating these foods from our diet can help us fight climate change!

Knowing which food products are air-freighted can be hard, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid fresh fruits and vegetables that have a short shelf-life and have come from a long way, such as berries, green beans and asparagus. Checking their country of origin on the label everytime we shop for groceries also helps [3].


A delicious-looking plant-based breakfast
The best way to help the environment is to eat more plant-based meals using locally-sourced food

Source: Ella Olsson [7]

Eating local food can help reduce our total emissions and protect our local farmers. Nevertheless, the best way to help the environment is to eat more plant-based meals using locally-sourced food. But this doesn't mean you have to become vegan right this instant!

"The main thing is getting away from this idea where meat is the centre of the plate", says Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian and plant-based nutrition and sustainability expert [5].

If we as a planet are willing to adopt a more plant-based diet, we can reduce up to 8 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year [5].

Shall we start our Meatless Mondays?


Want to know more? Check out our LIVE Talk about Food Waste and what Instagram has got to do with it HERE!





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