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Food and sustainability

Climatarian: the “zero emissions” meal

Choosing which food to eat using a purely ecological criterion: the impact that the food has on the production of greenhouse gas. This is the idea behind climatarianism.

Once upon a time, we had ‘foodies’, who were obsessed with everything to do with food and drink. Then the number of vegetarians, careful to avoid eating meat and fish, began to grow. However, it looks like the future will belong to the climatarians, who are conscious of the impact food can have on the environment and above all on greenhouse gas emissions linked to a given food. Indeed, at the end of 2015, the New York Times included the term ‘climatarian’ – which already appears in some English language dictionaries – among the new food-related words set to become widespread during the coming year. It defined climatarianism as “a diet whose primary goal is to tackle climate change”. In order to decide whether a foodstuff can or cannot be included in their diet, a climatarian does not just consider their own health, but also the well-being of the planet, which can be improved by drastically limiting the impact of food on the production of greenhouse gases causing global warming. A number of studies, including several summarised in BCFN’s publications, especially in the latest volume of Eating Planet, show that a diet with a lower environmental impact can also be beneficial to our health.

Focus on the Carbon footprint
The choices of the climatarian are not solely based on a vague appreciation for the environment, but on clear scientific data. Climatarianism means placing the concept of a carbon footprint at the heart of the diet, as outlined in the latest edition of Eating Planet, “it identifies the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change and is measured in an equivalent mass of CO2”. The process of producing the food, processing, packaging and transporting it from its place of origin to our tables, as well as cooking it, all have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions. This is why our everyday food choices are important in stopping or at least slowing down climate change. Just consider that by limiting our consumption of meat to just twice a week, we can “save” up to an equivalent of 2,300g of CO2 per day compared to eating meat on a daily basis. Indeed, it has been calculated that the carbon footprint of beef is well over the equivalent of 20,000g of CO2 per kilo, while fish is just under 4,500g, and poultry is around 4,000g. Foods that are under the equivalent of 2,000g of CO2 per kilo are beans and dried fruit, while vegetables and seasonal fruit use less than 1,000g.

Eating like a climatarian
What are the rules for a diet which protects the environment and aims above all to reverse climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions? A quick internet search of the words ‘climatarian’, ‘diet’ and ‘food’ provides a range of recipe ideas and websites promoting this type of diet.
In general, there are three main rules to climatarianism:
1. eat local products to reduce the energy consumed by transport and the emissions linked to production;
2. reduce (without needing to completely eliminate) the consumption of meat and choose pork, chicken and turkey instead of lamb or beef in order to limit gas emissions;
3. use all parts of the food (including the skins of fruit and cheese rinds) in order to limit waste.
Of course, you are free to eat as much fruit and as many vegetables and other plant products as you want, providing they are seasonal and locally produced.
It is clear that climatarians (especially when it comes to meat consumption) are more focused on their impact on the climate than on their own health. To avoid making mistakes when choosing what you eat, either in terms of your own health or for the environment, it is useful to consult the food Double Pyramid designed by BCFN. This tool was created to resolve any discrepancies between what is good for our bodies and what is good for the planet (often very small differences), in order to help health enthusiasts and climatarians to understand the various dietary models available.

Fondazione BCFN - La doppia piramide per gli adulti
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