Hunger or climate change, we might have to choose one
How individual food diet impacts climate change.
Obesity, undernutrition, and climate change are all global challenges, but what if we have to choose one? A new study by Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future assesses how dietary patterns across 140 countries would impact individual and country-level greenhouse gas emissions and freshwater use.
Researchers used nine plant-forward diets to asses the per capita, climate, and water footprints of a country. These plant-forward diets included various types of food including no red meat, pescatarian (vegans who eat fish), lacto-ovo vegetarians (vegans eating egg and milk), and vegan.
How diets impact environment:
Low and middle-income countries suffer from the problem of hunger; a new study by Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future highlights the effects of an adequate and healthy diet on the low and middle-income countries at the individual and country level.
They found that diet with protein coming from low food chain animals (small fish, mollusks etc) had low impact on the environment similar to a vegan diet. A diet with reduced (by two-third) animal food consumption also termed as “two-thirds vegan” also had lower climate and water footprints as compared to a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.
What should we do about it?
The researchers suggest that to counter climate impacts and diet-related morbidity and mortality, high-income countries should adapt plant-forward diets. They expect behavioural changes based on the impact of these diets on the environment. Changes that would balance health needs, cultural preferences, and planetary boundaries.
How a diet plan might be tricky:
Researchers suggest that prescribing a diet plan might be difficult as factors change depending on the country. For example, a pound of beef produced in Paraguay produces 17 times more greenhouse than when it is produced in Denmark.
One of the reasons includes different levels of deforestation in grazing land. So, the trade patterns also influence diet-related climate and freshwater impacts, as not all countries produce all the food. This also creates a problem in recommending diets for individual countries.
“Our data indicate that it is actually dairy product consumption that explains much of the differences in greenhouse gas footprints across diets. Yet, at the same time, nutritionists recognize the important role dairy products can have in stunting prevention, which is a component of the World Bank Human Capital Index,” says study co-author, Martin Bloem.
Is there any solution?
Keeve Nachman, the senior author and also the director of the Food Production and Public Health program at the university says, “Our research indicates there’s no one-size-fits-all diet to address the climate and nutrition crises. Context is everything, and the food production policies for each country must reflect that.”
“It would be satisfying to have a silver bullet to address carbon footprints and the impact of food production; however, with problems as complex and global as nutrition, climate change, freshwater depletion, and economic development, that’s not possible,” says co-author Bloem.
He also adds that the study provides a solution in a way that policymakers can develop strategies, including dietary guidelines that will help in meeting multiple goals.