There is no avoiding it — we have to eat every day. And as the effects of climate change become increasingly evident, the choices we make about what we’re eating are more significant than ever.
With many of us cooking at home these days, there is more of an opportunity to use food to fight climate change. With these ingredient swaps and tweaks to your eating habits, you can help make a more positive impact on your health as well as the Earth’s.
Ease up on red meat
“A diet without meat products can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49 percent and water-scarcity weighted water footprint by 19 percent,” said Galen Karlan-Mason, founder and CEO of GreenChoice, a grocery shopping app that helps consumers make informed choices about sustainability and nutrition, citing a 2018 study in the journal Science.
Karlan-Mason cited a number of factors that make industrial agriculture one of the most environmentally taxing processes in global food production. “We monocrop corn and soy and process it into feed, ship the feed to the cattle, provide land and water, and repeat for the life of the cattle, all while the cattle release methane gas daily.”
Plant-based meats, however, aren’t a one-to-one replacement for burgers and sausages. “If we look at soy production, it’s second to beef in environmental damage — we’re replacing first degree murder with second degree murder,” said Douglas Murray, associate professor and chair of the nutrition and food studies department at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
From a nutritional perspective, these processed patties can still be just as high in saturated fat as a beef burger and contain higher levels of sodium, according to Harvard Medical School. So if you’re choosing to cancel beef, exchanging it for a meatless option isn’t a free pass to eat a soy burger every day.
Focus on unprocessed ingredients
Beyond engineered substitutes, vegetarian protein sources are the obvious swap-in for meat. Most vegetables, as noted in the 2018 Science study, have less of a carbon footprint than even the least impactful animal protein sources, like fish, eggs and dairy.
The phrase “plant-based diet” is a wide-ranging term that encompasses high-protein vegetarian foods like beans, lentils, leafy greens, quinoa and other unprocessed ingredients.
Replacing beef with one of these in your chili, for example, is a small change that can also have a positive effect on your health. There is a correlation between vegetarian diets and sustained weight loss as well as lower risks for certain types of cancer and heart disease, multiple studies have shown.
And incorporating plant-based proteins into everyday meals is easier than ever, thanks to a shifting popular mindset that’s embracing meal-planning resources and recipes that…