How To Eat a Climatarian Diet To Save the Planet
Our everyday choices in the kitchen really do matter. Not just for our health (although that is very important), but also for the earth. While the food on your plate may seem harmless when it comes to big-ticket issues like reducing greenhouse gases, global warming, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch floating in the ocean…in all actuality, the foods you choose to eat really do make a difference in saving our planet. And activists, like the team behind the climatarian diet, are thinking of innovative ways for everyday folks like ourselves to reduce the carbon footprint on our plates.
We are likely all aware that food waste is a big perpetrator of climate change. Americans waste around 125 to 160 billion pounds of food every year, which equates to about 40% of the food that is being produced. Getting crafty in the kitchen with your food scraps and using up the food you have can already make a huge difference; cookbooks like Max La Manna’s You Can Cook This! and Carleigh Bodrug’s PlantYou are certainly a great place to start.
But cooking up your food scraps and wasting less food isn’t the only way you can make an environmental impact right in your kitchen; what you choose to eat also plays a major role. That’s where eating plans such as the climatarian diet come in.
What is a climatarian diet?
According to the Climatarian website, the climatarian diet is focused on eating a healthy, climate-friendly, nature-friendly diet that reduces your carbon footprint. If you’re not familiar, a carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by the actions and choices we make. Because the food system can rely on some of these resources, your carbon footprint can either increase or decrease depending on the foods you decide to eat.
In particular, the climatarian diet focuses on cutting down on meat consumption as a means to reduce your carbon footprint. Meat production tends to have a larger carbon footprint per calorie compared to plant-based foods due to the methane released from animal manure and enteric fermentation during digestion for animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, and buffalo.
“People across the globe can lower their ‘foodprint’ by reducing or cutting out meat consumption because meat products actually have a larger carbon footprint than grains or veggies,” says Gabrielle Reyes, vegan chef and partner of MyFitnessPal—who recently released an Eat Green plan, a 14-day guide full of quick tips to reduce your environmental footprint.
Plus, because the climatarian diet focuses on avoiding meat products (including processed meats) in everyday meals, the disease risk associated with these foods also decreases. People who follow the climatarian diet will experience a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease, as well as colorectal, breast, prostate, pancreatic, and stomach cancer.
How do I start eating a climatarian diet?
Instead of centering your meals around meat products, the climatarian diet focuses on high-quality plant proteins like nuts, seeds, chickpeas, lentils, and tofu. The climatarian diet also allows sustainably grown pork, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs, and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
It’s important to know that whether you decide to reduce the number of times a week you eat meat or want to cut it out altogether, incorporate a variety of plant-based protein sources into your meals to make sure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs,” says Reyes. “This is where a nutrition and food tracking app makes it easy. By logging your food throughout the day, you can uncover how your choices are stacking up nutrient-wise.”
Plus, by eating a variety of foods that aren’t as focused on meat, according to Christina Skonberg, director of sustainability and mission at Simple Mills, “diversifying your diet to include as many different plant species as possible is a great way to support a healthy gut microbiome while also supporting biodiversity in agriculture.”
An easy way to start eating a more climatarian-friendly diet is by choosing to eat vegetarian or vegan meals throughout the week—like cooking up one of these plant-based breakfast ideas or these vegetarian sheet pan dinner recipes.
How can I start making sustainable choices in the kitchen?
Along with eating a climatarian diet, here are a few other ways you can make your cooking and eating experience even more sustainable right in your kitchen.
1. Plant your own crops.
“Planting a variety of crops in a farm ecosystem can help feed the soil with different nutrients, break up pest and disease cycles, and provide habitat for wildlife,” says Skonberg.
2. Choose products that use environmentally-friendly ingredients and practices.
The products you choose also make a major difference — especially when a company is striving to make an environmental impact with the food they make.
For example, Simple Mills Sweet Thins are made with a blend of watermelon seed flour and flax, “two plants in different plant categories that serve unique functions in a crop rotation,” says Skonberg.
And while the climatarian diet does encourage you to eat more plants, some animal production companies are striving to make a difference in their practices. Do Good Chicken, for example, will collect food that would have otherwise been wasted at grocery stores and uses it to create a healthy, nutrient-dense feed for their chickens; they saved 27 million pounds of food going to landfill in just one year alone.
3. Incorporate perennial plants into your meals.
While eating a plant-based or plant-forward diet is still much more environmentally friendly compared to eating meat, certain plants actually require more water and resources to produce. These plants, known as “annual” plants, only grow for a season before dying off and needing to be planted again the following year.
Perennial plants regrow every spring and do not need another round of planting to produce. Adding more of these foods to your meal not only reduces your carbon footprint, but your water footprint as well. This also includes foods that you cook with, like herbs and oils. Olives come from a perennial tree, which means olive oil is considered one of the most sustainable oils you can cook with.
4. Get crafty with your leftovers.
The easiest way to reduce food waste in your home is by cooking the food that you have — including your leftovers. Some of our favorite leftover meals include using up a rotisserie chicken or leftover rice.
5. Aim for eating a variety of plants every week.
Who doesn’t love a good challenge? Research actually tells us that eating 30 different kinds of plants in a week results in a healthy, diverse microbiome, which is connected to all kinds of major functions for your health.
“I recommend counting how many different plant species you consume within a week,” says Skonberg. “It’s a fun way to see how much variety you’re getting in your diet and how much diversity you’re supporting in our food system.”
Read next: 5 Easy Ways to Eat More Sustainably at Home
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