What to eat to save the planet?

04.10.2020
3 min read

Animal advocates have definitely brought awareness of the way animal products are produced as more and more people consider this kind of lifestyle (or at least think of reducing the consumption of meat and fish). As to statistics, according to a 2014 report (1), a total of 375 million people are on a vegetarian diet.   

2020 is the time for environmental activists to shine as well. Finally! In terms of food the discussion is the following: production of what food has the worst & the best impact on ecology and what we can do with that. We are going to look closely at each of three diets – meat-based, sustainable & vegetarian – as food and environmental pyramids are two principally different things. All data are based on the Double Pyramid 2016 report (2).

Meat-based Diet

This kind of menu supposes that one consumes a lot of protein from animal origins, specifically meat once a day. Beef as the part of meat-based diet has the worst environmental impacts of all foods: the worst carbon imprint (which measures the amount of the greenhouse gas emissions during the entire life cycle of a food), the worst water imprint as well as the worst ecological one (which the Earth’s capacity to regenerate resources and absorb emissions).   

To be exact:

●       maximum of 26,230 grams of CO₂ equivalent emitted per kilogram of beef

●       maximum of 18,800 litres of water and maximum of 146 global square meters of resources used per kilogram of beef.

Average weekly ecological ‘receipt’ of meat menu (measured in global square meters  per person):

beef - 74 square meters  

poultry - 13 square meters

meat - 12 square meters

pork - 2 square meters

salami - 1 square meters 

  

Total weekly impact: 188 global square meters 

Annual impact is 9,780 global square meters per person, which is equivalent overall to 37 tennis courts. 

Sustainable Diet

While meat-based diet eaters mostly rely on red meat, those who incline to a sustainable diet prefer both white meat and fish. Their focus is on achieving the right balance between plant and animal protein. Sometimes such a menu is named ‘Mediterranean diet’.   

Although the sustainable menu contains poultry and fish, their ecological footprint has times less harmful impact than that of beef:

●       maximum of 4405 grams and 4020 grams of CO₂ equivalent emitted per kilogram of fish and poultry correspondingly

●       maximum of 4805  litres of water used per kilogram of poultry

●       maximum of 79 and 44 global square meters of resources used per kilogram of fish and poultry correspondingly.

Average weekly ecological ‘receipt’ of sustainable menu (measured in global square meters per person):   

cheese - 29 square meters

fruit - 6 square meters

milk - 6 square meters

legumes - 11 square meters

vegetables - 5 square meters

loaf of sliced bread - 2 square meters

pasta - 6 square meters

 rice - 1 square meters

 fruit smoothie - 3 square meters

 yogurt - 12 square meters


Total weekly impact: 161  global square meters

Annual impact is 8,370 global square meters per person, which is equivalent overall to 32 tennis courts. 

Vegetarian Diet

Vegetarians exclude meat and fish from their diet and get protein mainly from legumes. However, they still consume animal-origin protein such as cheese, all kinds of dairy and eggs. Though they eat neither meat nor fish – kinds of food with the greatest impact on the environment – cheese from the second place of the environmental pyramid is still included in the menu.   

The production of cheese is the most harmful out of all dairy products, numbers are the following: 

●       maximum of 9250 grams of CO₂ equivalent emitted per kilogram of cheese

●       maximum of 6260 litres of water used per kilogram of cheese

●      maximum of 61 global square meters of resources used per kilogram of cheese

Average weekly ecological ‘receipt’ of sustainable menu (measured in global square meters per person):   

fruit - 5 square meters

vegetables - 5 square meters

pasta - 5 square meters

rice - 1 square meters

juice - 2 square meters

fruit smoothie - 4 square meters

Total weekly impact: 140 global square meters

Annual impact is 7,280 global square meters per person, which is equivalent overall to 27 tennis courts

Conclusion

It's the law of nature that resources will be used for the production of food we eat anyway, doesn’t matter do you buy it from corporations, local farmers or grow yourself. But what we can do is to minimize the harmful impact on the environment. And the first step to that may be to cut the consumption of red meat today.