Move over vegan friends, there’s a cool new kid in town: the climatarian. More than a diet, climatarianism is a flexible approach to making your diet more planet-friendly.
And the planet seems to need every bit at the moment: food system creates 20 to 30% of global carbon emissions, more than all transportation.
The word ‘climatarian’ first seems to have appeared in The New York Times back in 2015, but the practice has gained momentum much faster than the label:
According to last year’s Waitrose Food & Drink Report, almost 70% of respondents said their food’s carbon footprint was important to them.
We drink 50% less dairy milk than we did in the 1970s, and 30% of us are specifically doing so for the environment.
Counting your steps
You might very well not have even heard the term before reading this article, but if you have recently swapped the milk in your morning coffee for some Oatly (or our very own Dug potato m*lk) to give Mother Earth a bit less carbon and more air to breathe, you are well on your way to becoming a climatarian.
We still largely market plant-based foods to consumers with the vegans and vegetarians in mind, even though health, and increasingly climate concerns, have definitely driven more Brits to adopt a more plant-based diet than animal welfare alone ever did:
Whilst only 4% of the UK population are estimated to be strictly vegan or vegetarian, 41% of us are actively reducing meat consumption to help fight climate change.
So, popularity for cutting down on meat or dairy for the planet is massively on the increase. Being a good climatarian isn’t that straightforward though, there is more complexity to the story.
Let’s take the avocado, poster child for millennial healthy eating. Last we checked; avocados were as green as it gets. Their complete journey to your plate tells a different story though: they are grown very water-intensively, take four times as much water to grow than the same amount of oranges, and ten times more than tomatoes.
They create a hefty carbon footprint on their way to us too… although some production of avocados is held in places such as The Netherlands and Spain, the majority still come to our shores from Peru, Chile, South Africa, Israel and Mexico. which really doesn’t make them the best ally for the climatarian’s sourdough. In fact the same applies to bananas, coconuts, almonds and soy beans; some of the fundamental ingredients of our contemporary plant-based diets.
Hence choosing to more eat locally, seasonally and in truth less exotically, is a much cooler way to keep your footprint on track.
This is yet to properly capture consumer imagination, although some efforts look promising. A good example is Better Food, an independent chain of food retailers and cafés in Bristol specializing in local, ethical food. With their regularly published impact reports, they let the customer know who their suppliers are, where they are situated at, and how everything was made. This way, you know exactly how much you cost the earth.
On the right road
Considering the carbon and water footprint of your food is a very good start. But there is still much more than that to true climatarianism. Greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption are easy to measure, and to quantify with numbers or charts, but when we see each food’s impact solely as a number or trend, we often overlook the true effects.
Because it is impossible to really fight climate change without addressing biodiversity.
You might have noticed that biodiversity is a passion topic for us at Family (and friends). Our efforts at being climatarians is no exception.
A certain food item might have a low carbon footprint by itself, but it might have grown using extractive practices that destroy wildlife and drive habitat loss. Encouraging more biodiverse thinking is an essential starting point for giving the earth a firm helping hand.
A good climatarian will always consider their food’s effect on biodiversity. Without protecting the ecosystems responsible for regenerating the planet, our efforts fighting climate change are haphazard at best.
The after-dinner speech.
Climatarianism has to go beyond the plate. Indeed, what you don’t eat matters nearly as much as what you do for the planet. Food and packaging waste is a key topic to consider: at the moment, 30 to 40% of the food produced goes to waste — and so all those resources used up for nothing. On top of it, food decomposing in landfills emit methane greenhouse gas, which contribute to global heating.
Your hardworking smartphone can be a good aide in this front too: a number of new startups such as Too Good To Go and Karma bring together good food destined for landfill and those who want it at cheaper prices, seamlessly and quickly through a few taps on an app.
Another topic is our food and beverage packaging ending up in the oceans, destroying marine life and contributing to climate change. Studies show that takeaway food and drink litter constitute 44% of ocean plastic, far beyond any other category. A large part of this is not recyclable, as sun and salt water degrade the plastic within days.
Avoiding excessive food packaging wherever possible and ditching single-use plastics is a great way to go. Another is supporting initiatives such as Prevented Ocean Plastic. They ensure throwaway plastic in coastal areas never reaches the ocean and ends up back in the system as recycled material. Proud to say that Bantam Materials, our friends upstairs in our Richmond studio, are doing great work supplying prevented ocean plastic: to date, they prevented over 10 billion bottles from ending up in the ocean.
Wrapping our heads around the complicated and interconnected nature of climate change is hard, leave alone our effect on it. But that is what climatarianism truly is – being mindful, gentle and considerate to our planet.