By Anya McCann, COOL Cuisine
Have you heard? The livestock sector produces about 15% of global greenhouse gases, roughly equivalent to all the exhaust emissions of every car, train, ship and aircraft on the planet.
On January 8 the Phoenix Coalition held the most recent installment of their Davis Community Gatherings with the subject “Climate and Environmental Justice.” I was invited to lead a discussion group related to food, climate change, and environmental justice (EJ).
I participate in the #1 most impactful action any single person can take to combat global climate change: I eat a diet free of any animal products. It is my mission in Davis to enable those who eat meat to easily make different choices in at least some of their meals.
Some simple-to-understand goals were outlined in the World Resources Institute (WRI) 2016 Working Paper “Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future.” (Synopsis here.) Sustainability includes concerns for climate change and “the fact that the world needs to close a 70 percent ‘food gap’ between the crop calories available in 2006 and expected calorie demand in 2050.” Calorie demand will be driven by population growth and by raising standards of living—when humans are wealthier, they eat more. WRI goals are:
- Reduce overconsumption of calories.
- Reduce overconsumption of protein by reducing consumption of animal-based foods.
- Reduce consumption of beef specifically.
Let’s examine these recommendations.
- Reduce Calories
On the planet there are 2 ½ times more overweight people than undernourished. We have many options of foods to eat and, especially in the U.S., we feel entitled to eat whatever we want with no boundaries. The fact that some people eat more calories than they require to maintain good health creates a food system that widens the gap between the haves and have nots.
It drives expanding agriculture that is not really needed and therefore increases environmental impacts. (In addition obesity had a worldwide economic cost of $2 trillion in 2012.)
- Reduce Animal-Sourced Protein
The global consumption of protein is one-third higher than the average established need for an adult and it is highest in the U.S. (Hands down, the #1 most annoying question omnivores ask vegetarians and vegans is: “Where do you get your protein?”)
This graph from WRI demonstrates on average Americans almost meet our daily need from the consumption of plant proteins alone, while most of the protein we over-eat is derived from animals. According to WRI “The agricultural land use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the average American diet were nearly double those associated with the average world diet, with 80 to 90% of the impacts from consumption of animal-based foods.” Under the new Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) guidelines for women I only need 40 grams…meeting that is so easy that I have stopped keeping a tally in my head. Can you think of one person you know who ate three meals a day and was diagnosed as protein deficient in the U.S.?
The upshot is that WRI recommends if everyone in high-consumption areas (the U.S.) reduced their intake of animal-sourced protein to 60 grams, global animal-based protein consumption was reduced by 17 % we could meet global climate change goals and adequately feed the world by 2050.
You don’t have to eat none, just eat less.
- Reduce Beef Consumption
According to WRI beef is by far the least efficiently produced animal protein from a “feed input to food output” view. Only 1 percent of the feed cattle consume is converted to calories that people consume from eating beef. In addition, “Nearly half of the agricultural land use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with supplying the average American diet stemmed from beef alone.” In the ambitious beef reduction scenario explored by WRI, in order to bring diets in America to the world average, Americans would need to reduce their intake of cows by 70%. This frees up one-third of agricultural land and reduces animal agriculture GHGs by 35%.
Note that there is a large projected growth in beef consumption as world incomes rise, so making these changes would contribute to basically keeping land use and GHGs at a level demand, not an actual reduction.
WRI suggests there are many strategies we need to employ to shift eating styles and consumption patterns. The first is an evolution of social norms about our food choices. We need to raise awareness of the impacts and make this goal socially desirable while making overconsumption socially unacceptable.
They encourage minimizing disruption in people’s lives by disguising changes (what my mother used to call “hiding” ingredients we did not like into a different, unrecognized form—like putting a layer of spinach in lasagna) and to replicate the experience of eating animal products to which people are accustomed.
There are at least eight refrigerated/frozen cases in the Davis Food Coop filled with these great tasting products—plant based version of cheese, milk, sausages, ground beef, hot dogs, deli slices, burgers, chicken wings, bacon, yogurt, cream cheese, mayo, sour cream, and more. We are in a heavenly period for “fake” products compared to even ten years ago. They make it easier to transition your diet. And so many more people are purchasing them that they are now at very reasonable prices.
The subject of costs takes me back to the Phoenix Coalition workshop and their EJ goal. We were instructed to provide actions participants can take toward reducing GHG emissions and providing climate justice. How do we help low-income members of our community eat more plants? Over 35,000 people in Yolo County are food insecure. I suggested two organizations that provide fresh, local fruit and vegetables to the needy in our area.
FARM Davis is wonderful alternative form of civic action, building community through sustainable farming of public and private space, assisting low-income and homeless populations, and integrating local and real food (vegetables and fruit) into mainstream culture and education. They need volunteers to come to work days to plant, tend to, or harvest food in several locations, help driving food to where it goes, and cash donations to keep things running.
Community Harvest of Davis is another locally run volunteer group that harvests the fruit from trees in residents’ yards which they do not plan to pick or eat and provides it to Yolo Food Bank and STEAC to supply area food pantries. They pick 30,000 lbs. of fruit each year (at $1.25 per lb. for say oranges, those volunteers provide $37,500 of food with minimal volunteer time.) It is amazing. (Contact Joe Schwartz at email@example.com )
Eating Plant-Based Together
COOL Cuisine (for a cooler planet) members want more places to go out to eat that serve plant-based dishes. Guests at our events eat less animal products for the planet, for their health, or out of compassion for animals…or all three. We take action by joining for social, fun gatherings at a different restaurant each month on the 3rd Thursday to vote with our wallets. You can find us on Facebook or Meetup.com. Our website has a list of restaurants we went to last year that have at least three meals worth of items on their menu. In 2017 we are planning events at restaurants willing to improve their selection of choices and mark their menus more clearly. January 19th, 3rd Thurs will be held at Symposium Greek restaurant, 6:30 pm at 1620 E. 8th Street.
If you are looking for support, guidance about products, recipes, cooking tips and more, sign up on Facebook for the Vegans of Davis chat group. UC Davis Integrative Medicine has a 21 day program for eating a healthy, plant based diet with guidance, support, and recipes. The organization Vegan Outreach has a mentor program you can sign up for. And you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be glad to provide resources for whatever level you are at in the process of eating less animal products.