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Climatic, flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan?

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The food we consume has a huge impact on our planet. Agriculture is increasing half of the habitable land on Earth, destroys forests and other ecosystems and produces quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Meat and dairy are specifically good for about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

So changing what we eat can help reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable agriculture. But there are several “climate-friendly” diets to choose from. The best known are the completely plant-based vegan diet, the vegetarian diet, which also allows eggs and dairy, and the pescetarian diet, which also allows seafood.

There are also “flexitariandiets, in which three-quarters of meat and dairy are replaced by plant-based foods, or the Mediterranean diet which allows moderate amounts of poultry, pork, lamb and beef. Deciding which diet to choose isn’t as easy as you might expect.

Let’s start with a new fad: the climate diet. One version was created by the non-profit organization Climate Network, who says this diet is healthy, climate-friendly and nature-friendly. According to the publicity, “a simple diet change can save you a ton of CO₂ equivalents per person per year” (“equivalents” simply means adding methane and other greenhouse gases in addition to carbon dioxide).

Sounds great, but the diet still allows you to eat meat and other high-emitting foods such as pork, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. So this is just a newer version of the “climate carnivore” diet, except followers are encouraged to switch as much red meat (beef, lamb, pork, veal, and venison) to other meats and fish as possible.

However, the diet encourages you to eat less meat overall and to choose high-quality and local meat whenever possible, while avoiding food waste and choosing seasonal, local foods.

So saving a ton of carbon dioxide is great, but switching to vegetarianism or veganism can save even more. A western standard meat-based diet provides about 7.2 kilograms of CO₂ equivalent per daywhile a vegetarian diet produces 3.8 kg and a vegan diet 2.9kg. If the whole world went vegan, it would almost save 8 billion tons of CO₂e while even switching to the Mediterranean diet would still save 3 billion tons. That is a saving of between 60% and 20% of all food emissions as they are currently on 13.7 billion tons CO₂e per year.

Which diet will help save our planet - climatic, flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan?

How much CO2e (in billions of tons, or Gt) would be saved if the whole world switched to each of these diets. Credit: Terms as defined by CarbonBrief. Data: IPCC, author provided

Water and land use

Until Save our planet, we also need to consider both water and land use. For example, beef has about 15,000 liters of water per kilo.

Some vegetarian or vegan dishes like avocados and almonds also have a huge water footprint, but generally have a plant-based diet about half of the water consumption of a standard meat-based diet.

A global shift from meat would also free up a huge amount of land, as billions of animals would no longer need to be fed. Soy, for example, is one of the world’s most common crops, so far almost 80% of the world’s soybeans are fed to livestock.

The reduced need for farmland would help stop deforestation and protect biodiversity. The land could also be used to reforest and reforest large areas, which would become a natural store of carbon dioxide.

(Usually) healthier

A plant-based diet is also generally healthier. Meat, especially highly processed meat, has been associated with a range of major health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.

However, meat, dairy and fish are the main sources of some essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iodine and vitamin B12. A strict vegan diet can put people at risk for deficiencies unless they have access to: certain foods or take supplements. But both specialty nutrition and supplements are too expensive for many people around the world, and it would be difficult to scale up supplement production to cater for billions of additional people.

A climatic or flexitarian approach therefore means that there are fewer health risks and also allows people to still have freedom of choice. A study suggests that a switch to a global plant-based diet could reduce global mortality by as much as 10% by 2050.

Nine animals per person per year

One of the topics that seems to be missing from many food discussions is the ethical dimension. Every year we slaughter 69 billion chickens, 1.5 billion pigs, 0.65 billion turkeys, 0.57 billion sheep, 0.45 billion goats and 0.3 billion cattle. That’s more than nine animals killed a year for every person on the planet — all for food and protein that we know can come from a plant-based diet.

So what’s the ideal global diet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce habitat destruction, and help you live longer? Well, I propose to be an “ultraflexitarian” – a diet of mostly plant foods, but a diet that allows meat and dairy products to an extreme degree, but red and processed meats are completely banned. This would save at least 5.5 billion tons of CO₂ equivalent per year (40% of all food emissions), reduce global mortality by 10% and prevent the slaughter of billions of innocent animals.

Vegetarian diets may be better for the planet, but the Mediterranean diet is the one that omnivores will actually adopt

Provided by The Conversation

This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The conversation

Quote: Which diet will help save our planet: climatic, flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan? (2022, August 15) retrieved on August 15, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-diet-planet-climatarian-flexitarian-vegetarian.html

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