You've probably heard the phrase "You are what you eat," but what if part of what you're consuming is the climate and its key resources? How you purchase and consume food can have a significant ecological impact on your carbon footprint. Understanding the climatarian diet can help you make more informed and thoughtful choices about what goes on your plate. Discover more about what this eating approach looks like and how to shift to an environmentally healthy diet.
What Is a Climatarian Diet?
Following a climate-friendly diet means making the conscious choice to eat foods with the least negative environmental impact. Choosing an eco-friendly diet doesn't necessarily mean adhering to a strict set of rules. Instead, it encourages you to be more mindful about how your eating habits affect the planet.
This means doing a little research when you shop and eat out to understand how your food was made and the journey it took to get to your plate. In general, eat with the climate in mind by seeking out foods that are minimally processed and locally and organically produced from sustainable sources. Avoid eating foods that contribute to pollution and environmental harm through growth, production, or distribution.
Which Foods Should You Prioritize in a Climatarian Diet?
A climate-friendly diet primarily consists of locally produced, plant-based foods. Here are a few climatarian diet staples:
Seasonal Local Produce
You know a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables is good for you, but to also be beneficial for the planet, focus on the type of produce you eat. For example, eating out-of-season fruits grown halfway around the world leaves a larger carbon footprint than buying in-season produce from your local farmers' market.
Consider how farmers produce their food, too. Organic foods (grown without pesticides) are more climate-friendly than those produced through commercial farming methods.
Whole grains like oats, brown rice, bulgur, and barley are less intensive to produce than proteins like meat and dairy products while still remaining nutrient-dense. One study showed that whole grains require significantly less land and water to grow than meat, dairy, or even many fruits and vegetables.
Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are all examples of high-protein legumes that require far less water to grow than meat protein sources. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) also explains that growing legumes, also known as pulses, can help enrich the soil they grow in, making it easier to increase crop production naturally.
According to the FAO, farmers can cultivate mushrooms without fertile soil or much water. In fact, they can be grown in other crops' waste, making their carbon footprint minimal. Since mushrooms are rich in nutrients and protein, they're an excellent meat substitute and can be highly versatile in cooking.
Which Foods Should You Avoid in a Climate-Friendly Diet?
While there are several foods to avoid in a climate-friendly diet, it doesn't mean you have to eliminate them entirely to make a difference. Striking a comfortable balance makes it easier to consistently live and eat as a climatarian.
Highly Processed and Packaged Foods
As a general rule of thumb, the more ingredients listed on a food package, the more processed it is. Since these foods often require more steps to process and package than whole foods, they often have a larger carbon footprint. Processed foods also tend to include high levels of sugar and palm oil—both of which harm the environment. Palm oil production has been linked to deforestation, and sugar growth and refining require large amounts of water and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
How foods are packaged also impacts the environment. Unless the packaging is recyclable or made from sustainable resources, it can be a source of waste.
Cutting back meat consumption overall can minimize your carbon footprint—especially red meat. Carbon emissions from livestock supply chains account for 14.5 percent of all human-induced emissions. Beef cattle were the most significant source, accounting for 65 percent of those livestock emissions.
Dairy cattle generate similar emissions levels as beef cattle, making dairy products like milk and cheese a significant carbon contributor as well.
Starting Simple to Make a Lasting Impact
Small changes can go a long way to making a big impact. You don't have to turn your usual eating habits upside down to make a difference. Start by simply reducing some foods with a high carbon footprint and introducing climate-friendly options bit by bit. Over time, it will get easier to adjust your diet to one that's both satisfying and supportive of the environment.
To learn more about making sustainable choices at home with your family, check out the Tom's of Maine guide to teaching kids sustainable food practices.
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Why It's Good
You don't have to adhere to rigid rules to make an impact on the environment. Small changes in your diet can help you reduce your carbon footprint overall.