Food for the Climate: Why it matters what we eat.

Today, we're launching our 'Featured Challenges'. Each month, we'll focus on a sustainability issue, tell you what's important to know, give you valuable facts, and show you how to make a difference in your everyday life.

To start, we'd like to talk about a topic which is on everybody’s lips. Through social media, in the news, or even in the movies, as the two documentaries, Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy, have shown. Our diet. And why it's so important to the health of our planet and also humanity. What does sustainable nutrition mean?

Nutrition is essential for the survival of nature, animals, and humans. Sustainability is also essential for our survival and for everything that surrounds us. We have to combine both to live in balance with the resources of our earth and to be able to enjoy the services of our planet in the long run.

The topic 'nutrition' is quite complex. That's why it's so important that we talk about it and make it as easy as possible. With our blog, we would like to take you by the hand and give you tips, tricks and also implement sustainability in your everyday life.

Why it is so important to talk about our diets
We prefer to decide spontaneously what we want to eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner because nowadays almost everything is available at almost any time. We owe this availability to an enormous increase in food production in the last century. Unfortunately, this has also led to an increase in the number of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Our food accounts for more than a quarter, or 26%, of global emissions. And if we look at our carbon footprint - that is, what we individually produce in terms of emissions - almost 24% is due to our eating habits. So not only can we reduce a quarter of our CO₂ footprint with our daily choices about what we eat, but we can also contribute to the minimization of up to a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases. That's a pretty big lever in lowering greenhouse gases, we think.

"Our food accounts for more than a quarter, or 26% of global emissions."

Source: Our World in Data (2020): The carbon footprint of EU diets: where do emissions come from?

But what do we need to change about our eating habits? To find out, it's worth taking a look at the distribution of food emissions and at where exactly they occur:

  • Livestock and fisheries are responsible for 31% of food emissions. 🐄
    This includes primarily methane emissions emitted by ruminants such as cattle during digestion, but also the production of manure, the management of grazing land and livestock facilities, and fuel consumption in fisheries.
  • Crop production accounts for 27% of food emissions. 🌱
    Of these, 21% of emissions are distributed among the production of plant foods for humans and 6% are from growing feed for livestock.
  • Land use is responsible for 24% of food emissions. 🚜
    16% of agricultural land alone is used as pasture and cropland for livestock. Only 8% of the land is used for growing plant-based food. In addition, the expansion of agriculture leads to the conversion of forests, grasslands, and other CO₂ sinks*. These are being converted to cropland or pasture. This releases CO₂ instead of storing it in the sinks, as was intended by nature.
  • Supply chains account for 18% of food emissions. ✈️
    Only 8% of supply chain emissions originate from transportation. The larger share is from producing the food to the final product.

Source: Our World in Data (2020): The carbon footprint of EU diets: where do emissions come from?

A quarter of emissions, 3.3 billion tons of CO₂e** to be exact, from food production ends up as waste. This happens either through losses in the supply chain or by consumers themselves. We will go into more detail on the topic of 'Food Waste' in our next blog post. So stay tuned ;)

"3.3 billion tons of CO₂e from food production ends up as waste."

If you look at the points above, you can see that the production of meat and animal products accounts for a large part of our CO₂ emissions. It doesn't just stop at CO₂ emissions but the use of land is also enormous.  In the distribution of agricultural land use, 77% is used for grazing and the cultivation of livestock feed alone. And the decrease of moorland and forest areas is also increasing due to the growing livestock farming. So not only do we have more CO₂ emissions from livestock, but we are also losing important CO₂ sinks as a result.

Meat and animal products are THE protein supplier par excellence. Have you ever heard this sentence? And have you ever wondered if it is true at all? Scientists wanted to find out which foods are better sources of protein and energy while causing less CO₂ emissions. Thus, protein and energy delivery were compared with the CO₂ emissions generated. The result: while livestock takes up most of the world's agricultural land, it produces a measly 18% of the world's calories and 37% of all protein. Here, too, beef, unfortunately, has the worst record. A comparison: The production of one kilogram of protein from beef emits 60 kg of CO₂e. By contrast, the production of one kilogram of protein from peas generates only 1 kg CO₂e.

Our conclusion:
Animal foods have a higher overall footprint than plant foods. Per kilogram, lamb and cheese emit more than 20 kg CO₂e. Poultry and pork have a lower footprint, but at 6 and 7 kg CO₂e, respectively, they are still higher than most plant-based foods.

So if we reduce our meat consumption, especially beef, as well as our consumption of animal products, we can already save a good amount of CO₂ emissions. We are not talking about a complete renunciation. It is already a big step if we do not eat meat products and animal products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt every day. Perhaps we can have a vegetarian or vegan week now and then and thus gradually move toward a more climate-friendly diet.

Source: Our World in Data (2020): The carbon footprint of EU diets: where do emissions come from?

Do we eat so much meat?
According to the current meat atlas, between 50 and over 100 kg of meat per capita are eaten in affluent countries every year. Spread over the year, we eat an average of 125 g of meat per day at about 1-2 meals. In poorer countries, less than half of the meat is consumed. But more vegetable proteins are consumed. This of course benefits the CO₂ balance. It is expected that meat consumption will also increase in poorer countries. In addition, our world population will grow steadily. And more people need more food.

It makes a big difference if we replace animal proteins with plant proteins right now. Not only to reduce CO₂ but also to be able to use agricultural land differently. For more cultivation of plant proteins and renaturation. Protein suppliers and for renaturation, to create further carbon sinks.

This was enough information for now. In the PLAN3T app, you will find challenges about nutrition, for which you can get double Planet Coins for one month starting today. Have fun trying out the challenges. If you have ideas for future blog posts or more questions, feel free to write to us via hello@plan3t.one or contact us on Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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Dig Deeper 📚

  1. https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food?country=#carbon-footprint-of-food-products
  2. https://www.boell.de/de/de/fleischatlas-2021-jugend-klima-ernaehrung?dimension1=fleischatlas_2021
  3. https://drawdown.org/solutions/table-of-solutions
  4. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/agriculture/our%20insights/reducing%20agriculture%20emissions%20through%20improved%20farming%20practices/agriculture-and-climate-change.pdf
  5. https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:b0b53649-5e93-4415-bf07-6b0b1227172f/download_file?safe_filename=Reducing_foods_environment_impacts_Science%2B360%2B6392%2B987%2B-%2BAccepted%2BManuscript.pdf&file_format=application%2Fpdf&type_of_work=Journal%20article&fbclid=IwAR1fQfU5zKTtxPRwHAgmDezOUzpt2QnZjtZkZ3g5H6AD-_8R5no9qCFj58o

* CO₂ sinks are natural or artificial reservoirs that absorb and store carbon dioxide from our atmosphere through biological and physical mechanisms. In doing so, they absorb more carbon than they release.

** CO₂ equivalents: To make the effect of different greenhouse gases comparable, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has defined the so-called "Global Warming Potential". This index expresses the warming effect of a certain amount of greenhouse gas over a defined time (usually 100 years) compared to CO₂. Read more: https://www.myclimate.org/information/faq/faq-detail/what-are-co2-equivalents/