When you’re eating, chances are you’re not thinking about the carbon emissions that each dish is responsible for. It’s more likely that you’re just enjoying the taste, or maybe grabbing something quickly to fuel up for a long day. 

The reality is that food is responsible for 14.5% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide.

Because of this, China’s government is encouraging citizens to eat less meat with a campaign called  “Less Meat, Less Heat, More Life” that hits upon both the environmental and the health impacts of heavy meat eating. The country has enlisted celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron to help them out.

With a population of 1.3 billion people, China’s meat consumption is twice as large as the United States, and by 2030, it will be triple. To put that in other words, China’s meat consumption is already higher than the U.S. and Europe combined.  

The campaign running this initiative, 5 To Do Today, created a video about the effects of meat-eating, both in China and around the world.

How do you know the climate change impact of your food? It’s calculated by looking at an animal’s feed rate, which is the quantity of food needed to produce a certain body mass. For example, a feed rate of 1.2 would indicate that 120 grams of food is needed to produce 100 grams of body mass. A type of meat with a 1.6 feed rate, like chicken, has a much smaller carbon footprint than, for example, beef, which has a feed rate between 4.5 and 7.5. When you eat less meat with a high feed rate, you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint.

A study in the UK found that of three popular types of diets — meat, vegetarian, and vegan — that high meat-eaters created 2.5 times as many GHG emissions as vegans.

The production, transportation, storage, cooking and waste of food all contribute to GHG emissions, which include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. While this does include vegetables and fruit, animal-based products have significantly greater emissions than plant-based products per unit weight. This is mostly because of inefficiencies in the growth of feed for the animals, as well as methane produced by cattle and sheep. Livestock production also consumes one-third of the world’s fresh water. 

Image: WildAid

Here are 3 easy tips for eating sustainably:

1. Plants, plants, plants.

A more plant-based diet will reduce deforestation and and freshwater withdrawals.

2. Make meat a side dish.

Choose to eat nuts or legumes as protein sources to eliminate meat as a main meal, since meat consumption is the biggest food contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

3. Be choosy with your seafood.

While fish have a lower feed rate and a lower environmental impact than meat, there are many species that are overfished. Read up on which fish to avoid here.

It can often feel like there’s not much a single person can do to combat environmental change. In spite of this, changing your diet to even cut out meat for a single meal can make little dents in a huge issue. Eating sustainably is one way to do your part for this incredible planet we are so lucky to live on.

How To

Defend the Planet

One simple way you can help slow climate change

By Madeline Schwartz