Bandaru Naresh, a sustainability professional and social entrepreneur shares his insights with Hello Vizag on sustainable diet to mitigate climate change, based on his own research.
Carbon footprint of Food
Climate Change is a reality. While Governments and corporates focus on policy changes, power generation and infrastructure as areas to focus on to mitigate climate change; individuals too can play a significant role by the choices they make. Adopting a Vegetarian diet tops the list of lifestyle changes recommended by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) released in the atmosphere.
Altering our diets to give up or reduce consumption of red meat, poultry and fish can have a huge impact on our carbon footprint, reduce pollution, preserve the environment, and slow global warming.
Food’s carbon footprint is the GHGEs produced by growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing the food we eat. The food we consume has a large impact on our environment. The impact varies significantly between different diets. Studies show that GHGE for an Indian non-vegetarian meal (includes mutton, chicken, fish and eggs) is on average 40% more compared to an Indian Vegetarian Meal (includes dairy products). A non-vegetarian meal with mutton emits 80% more GHGEs than an Indian vegetarian meal. Global studies show that compared to a Vegetarian diet (with dairy and eggs), the inputs needed to produce a non-vegetarian diet are 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer and 1.4 times more pesticides.
The environmental impact of beef is even higher. It is estimated that each kg of beef requires 163 times more land, 18 times more water, 19 times more nitrogen and 11 times more CO 2 than to produce a kg of rice or potatoes. Furthermore, livestock farming plays a major role in CO2 release and biodiversity loss from deforestation.
The Kartika Masam Sustainable Diet
Indian culture ensures that ‘Sustainability’ is inbuilt into every facet of our lives including our diet. While the concept of ‘Sustainable Diet’ is an emerging and fast-growing concept in the West, Indians knowingly or unknowingly have been practicing this for millennia, particularly during certain periods of the year which are considered sacred.
To put it simply, “a Sustainable Diet is one with production that has little environmental impact, is protective and respectful of biodiversity and of ecosystems, and is nutritionally adequate, safe, healthy, culturally acceptable and economically affordable”.
During the month of Kartika masam, many Indians, and Telugu people in particular, adopt a Sustainable Diet. Entire families who on other days are non-vegetarian turn vegetarian for an entire month. This is quite significant for the environment because Telugu people are one of the highest consumers of non-vegetarian food in the country, it is estimated that over 98% of the population of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are non-vegetarians.
When a good proportion of such a huge population of meat eaters voluntarily turn vegetarian for extended periods of time, the positive impact on the environment in terms of reducing GHGEs is tremendous. Even the not so serious followers of the Kartika masam food diet, make sure that they are compulsorily vegetarian on Mondays, Purnima, Ekadasi days and many other days considered auspicious in the month. This can be corroborated by the sales by local meat, chicken, fish sellers and restaurants who report a drop of 30% to 50% in sales on normal days and more on Mondays and other auspicious days. Many restaurants adapt to the local culture and come up with innovative menus to keep up their businesses.
Value of Sustainable Diet
There is indisputable growing body of evidence today to show that Sustainable diets have a positive impact on environment and health. A well-planned plant-based diet can be both nutritionally sufficient and environmentally sustainable. It is estimated that a global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruit and vegetables could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoid climate damages of US$ 1.5 trillion.
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