• Vanessa


A recent definition of a healthy diet was released by the Scientific Group of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, under the leadership of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guiterres. This definition went beyond traditional meanings of health (read: nutrition for humans) and instead points to a balance of both human and planetary health.

What does this mean? That a healthy diet not only provides nutritious and healthy food, but it does so without discrimination, excess, health-harming substances, extreme cost or harm to the planet.

I personally love this definition because not only do we have a need to ensure a healthy diet for ourselves, but balancing that with health for the planet and others around us is key. That's why I like to look at an eco-friendly diet from two perspectives.

First: what we eat.

The reality is that all foods are not created equal. Some foods require a much longer life cycle and amount of energy to produce, while others go straight from crop to plate.

This ultimately results in them having a higher footprint, which makes your diet have a larger impact on the planet.

So in order to reduce that, we need to think critically about what we eat and the resources that were taken to produce it.

Now this is a very large oversimplification of the resources required to make your food, but it'll give you a starting point of how to think about it. I like to look at the following three categories:

  • Animal products: which require resource to grow crops for feed, raise the animal, process and package the products, and ship to the distribution center6

  • Vegetables: which require resources to grow, harvest, and then ship either locally or internationally

  • Processed foods: which also require the resources to grow sometimes various ingredients, then process, package, and ship

Every one of these steps creates emissions. So any time we can eliminate one of the stages, the better.

So in a very simplified nutshell, this is why a lot of eco advocates do tend to lean towards a whole-food plant-based diet, because you can be really critical of what makes it onto your plate and the amount of resource required to get it there.

But if you're not there yet, it's ok!

Because there are other choices you can make to lower the footprint of your diet besides just going vegan. And being armed with just a small amount of additional information will help you make huge strides. Because in fact, red meat produces the highest carbon of any protein. And poultry, pork, milk and eggs have roughly 84% fewer emissions than beef. And grains, legumes and pulses have the lowest emissions with 96% that of beef.

So you can single handedly reduce your emissions by:

  • 88% every time you choose chicken over beef

  • 64% every time you substitute veggies for chicken or fish

  • 67% when choosing fish over crustaceans (ie shrimp)

So I'm not here to say go vegan, and in fact, if you follow me closely then you know that I am *not* vegan. In fact, I'm largely pescatarian due to a gut related auto immune disease.

But you can start making more conscious choices today, tonight, to have fewer emissions on your plate.

Here are the three key actions you can take:

  • consume more plants, and choose options with lesser footprint

  • buy local & seasonally to reduce the distance travelled and resource required to grow

  • buy only organic and sustainably produced animal products to ensure ethical and low impact sourcing of these products

And now on to my second point: what we waste.

So after we've really critically examined what we are bringing into our home and putting on our place, minimising the waste from those shopping trips and meals is the second best step we can take to minimising the footprint of our diet.

Because the UN estimates that nearly 1/3 of all food created for human consumption is lost or wasted.

And an estimated 20% of that waste is at the consumer level.

Which means 20% of this food waste is from things going bad before they're purchased from shops, not getting eaten or consumed at restaurants, or what isn't getting eaten from home and instead going into the bin.

Isn't that shocking??

So yes, we all have a responsibility to ensure that we only purchase what we need and that we dispose of it properly.

So here are the three key actions you can take to minimise food waste:

  • prepare and buy only what you need

  • properly preserve / store food so it doesn't go bad

  • properly dispose of excess by composting (or rescue a rabbit like I have!)

So remember! More than just thinking about whether we eat animal products or not, we all have to think critically about what we eat *and* what we waste.