While on a trip last week, I made a post about enjoying an ice cream from a local shop in Fernie. A follower gave me some flack for doing so. She complained that I wasn't living up to the environmental standards that I claimed to be. Read her posted comment below.
While, I do agree that a plant-based diet is the best choice, I also don't believe one must sacrifice every pleasure in life in order to maintain eco-friendly integrity. As the saying goes "everything in moderation" which I'll discuss in further depth in a moment.
I also agree with this follower that the dairy industry and animal agriculture in general is a major source of water pollution as well as dangerous methane emissions. To make matters worse, a ridiculous amount of land is used to feed livestock either for grazing or for growing crops to feed them. This area now accounts for a staggering 77% of global farming land yet only produces 18% of the world’s calories and 37% of total protein. Worse yet, as developing countries increase their standards of living so too does their demand for meat.
I like the analysis that that Lloyd Alter provides in his book Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle, "if going vegan is too hard, red meat, lamb, and shrimp are off the menu. Eat less dairy, fish, chicken and pork; they have a fraction of the footprint of beef."
Lloyd was initially surprised that researchers didn't recommend cutting these foods out completely. He even contacted the study's lead author, Michael Clark about it. And this is what he had to say "You're correct, that we did not include a vegetarian or vegan diet, but I also wouldn't say that the EAT-Lancet diet (also known as the Mediterranean Diet) is far more moderate than these. The EL diet allows for ~ 140 g red meat/day, with slightly more poultry and fish. Compared to current diets in many countries, meeting the EL diet would still require a very, very large change from current dietary choices. From a psychological perspective, communicating "eat less meat" seems to be a more effective way to get people to shift their dietary habits than is "eat no meat".
So, let's take a look at my own diet. To be honest, I rarely eat meat. I already eat a plant-based diet. I will admit that, while I don't drink milk, I do enjoy cheese and other dairy products occasionally, even ice cream. I also eat eggs. However, I only buy from small, local producers cutting out a significant source of emissions from transportation and cold chain (or refrigeration on wheels). A majority of the vegetables are sourced this way too, local and without packaging. Basically, I'm already eating a Mediterranean diet. In my monthly newsletters, I post my favourite plant-based recipes taking some of the legwork out for you. Essentially, I'm trying to live the most eco-friendly lifestyle and share what I've learned with you. (By the way, you can sign up for my newsletter at the bottom of this page).
I cut out meat a while ago for several reasons. The first reason is that large scale conventional animal agriculture is actually not very appetizing. I am of the belief that if your farming operation smells so bad that I can smell it from a kilometre away, it's not even remotely sustainable. Second, even if I were to choose a small scale, organic meat producer, I couldn't afford it very often and finally, why does it all come packaged in plastic and styrofoam that can't be recycled? It's just so incredibly wasteful. Which brings me to another point, transportation and packaging.
Lloyd Alter wrote about this too in his book. In a nut shell, he estimated based on 2050 targets, that every person could produce no more than 1 tonne of emissions worth of consumption every calendar year. From there he determined a daily maximum consumption value of 2.74 kilograms. Every item he purchased, trip he made or food he consumed was assigned an emissions value for that day. Some days he was was under his target, some days he was over. Some consumption values forced him to make some sacrifices. Let's take a look at one of his family favourites, Swiss Chalet rotisserie chicken, 1/4 chicken, ordered for delivery:
• Raising chicken: 1431 grams
• Cooking chicken: 72 grams
• Packaging chicken: 366 grams
• Deliver chicken: 2737 grams
• Total: 4606 grams
He's already blown through almost two days worth of budgeted consumption with one order. Obviously, this was a treat he was willing to sacrifice. But, let's take a look at some of these numbers more closely. Packaging and delivery created far more emissions than raising the actual chicken! This is not an isolated problem. Most things come over packaged and need to be transported somewhere as well as refrigerated to preserve them during transport, including vegetables, fruits and vegan food.
We have grown accustomed to eating a wide variety of fresh foods from around the world all arriving in various packaging by a variety of transportation networks. And we now feel entitled to with recent studies indicating that food miles actually only make up a very small amount of transportation emissions. We no longer eat within the seasons like our relatives only a few generations before us because local isn't necessarily better, or is it? Transportation cost looks pretty minor when you look at the chart below.
Interestingly enough, Lloyd researched that too. He questioned these findings and dug a little deeper to discover that the researchers never looked at emissions generated from the cold chain. They simply converted the miles that food travelled to emissions determined by transport mode. So, he put one of his research students on it and discovered that up to 15% of the world's energy production goes into cold chains and cooling systems. Further to this "greenhouse gas emissions from conventional diesel engine driven vapour compression refrigeration systems commonly employed in food transport refrigeration can be as high as 40% of greenhouse gas emissions from the vehicle's engine". Lloyd goes on to state that according to the United Nations, transportation directly contributes 1.2 gigatonnes annually in diesel emissions, responsible for up to 7% of the world's hydrofluorocarbon emissions contributing as much as 4% to total emissions of transporting all freight, not just refrigerated. Essentially putting local food back on the menu.
Now, let's look at the emissions generated from my ice cream. There is a very thorough study available at sciencedirect.com that breaks down all the potential emissions generated by my premium chocolate ice cream. To simplify things, the report concludes that the global warming potential of an average 1 kilogram tub of premium chocolate ice cream is 3940 grams of CO2 emissions. That's definitely more than a day's maximum consumption set at 2.74 kilograms or 2740 grams. But, I only had one scoop of ice cream and not an entire tub. I also purchased the ice cream directly from a local manufacturer eliminating some of the emissions that would be produced during transportation and packaging. Let's say my scoop is 68 grams (a standard side) and we determine that the carbon footprint based on it's portion of a 1 kg package. That would make its emission value approximately 246 grams. That would be generous given that we have already determined that transportation and packaging have been reduced. That would be a little over 1/10th of my daily allotment. Not insignificant but, if you're only enjoying this treat occasionally, certainly not as bad as my follower seems to think.
Which brings me back to moderation. The biggest driver of climate change is actually consumption. Simply put, we consume far too much of pretty much everything. And our entire economic system is based on this assumption. That has the change. Many of us are having a hard time figuring out where to start. That's one of the reason's why I enjoyed reading Lloyd Alter's book so much. He clearly lays out a path for self-sufficiency. Lloyd, like myself, believes it is possible to live sustainably without giving up basic comforts. By simply reducing consumption, we can live a lifestyle that fits within a reasonable carbon footprint.
In conclusion, it's not that important what you consume but rather how much you consume. We don't need to all become vegan to do our part. Eating less red meat and dairy will be healthier for us anyway. So will smaller portions. Reduce your food waste. And eat local and seasonal as much as possible to reduce the cold chain.