Eating for our planet’s future

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Can we eat our way to a greener planet?

This opinion voices the views of Oriana Marrs, aged 12 years and a new contributor to Rye News.

Comments will be moderated to reflect the age of the author, and our aim is to support young writers to contribute to Rye News.

Oriana’s interests include music, the sciences, and reading. She loves spending time on local rivers, kayaking, rowing, and exploring new wildlife habitats each time she goes out.

Our global leaders have agreed to not exceed the 2015 Paris Agreement of a 1.5°C rise in global temperatures, however, that already means our sea level rises by almost half a metre, with an ice-free Arctic at least once every one-hundred years. We will also see significant losses from species of plants, vertebrates, and insects, with 90% of our coral reefs destroyed.[1]

Our trajectory currently is to reach 2°C,[2] although some people predict that a 5°C[3] increase is more likely. Today people are dying from global warming at current temperatures.[4] The damage caused by 5°C is unimaginable.

The increase in CO2 emissions, and the resulting impacts to humans and the wider planet, are not entirely predictable. But we know that if we want the next generation to see a polar bear in the wild, or dive a coral reef, we must start working now. We can only succeed if we work together, by changing our behaviours and demands for fossil fuels.

I will be exploring how our daily lives contribute to the end of our world as we know it and finding new ways to live our daily life away from fossil fuels. We need to lower our emissions today to change tomorrow for the better.

[5]Firstly, let me clarify that solar panels, wind farms, and biofuels will not save us in themselves, because no technology that exists today, or will exist, has the time to make sufficient difference.[6] Although they are still important opportunities that need to be used to succeed, we need to change how we live now because our carbon budget will be gone in about seven years with our current demands. [7]

I have been researching the simple things that we can do to help, with the evidence that they do work. These are small and manageable changes; together they will make a difference. We need put pressure on our local and global leaders to make the larger, more important changes, but they will only do that if we show that we are willing to prioritise change through our own actions.

Our food

Around one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions come from our food. See the table below:

FOOD QUANTITY CO2 EMISSION PER YEAR
Tomato One tomato, once or twice a week 13kg
Cheese 30g piece of cheese, once a week 73kg (the same as heating an average UK house for 11 days)
Beef One portion, once or twice a week 604kg (same as driving a petrol car 1,542 miles)
Dairy milk Once a day, serving of 200ml 229kg[8]

 

The production and transport of foods such as rice, avocados, beef and dairy milk are significant contributors to CO2 emissions.

We can avoid these foods, by having potatoes instead of rice – potatoes are the lowest contributors to CO2 emissions in the carbohydrate food group.

Avocados are not a large part of people’s diets, so they can easily be substituted with  locally grown, seasonal fruits or vegetables.

Beef is the highest contributor to CO2 emissions out of all food groups and can be easily substituted with other sources of protein such as beans, tofu, peas, and eggs.

Dairy milk is probably the simplest to substitute with plant-based milk, such as oat milk. Oat milk is now far more available and is becoming almost as affordable as dairy milk. I can confirm that alternative milk tastes just as good as dairy milk (if not better) in hot chocolate drinks!

If one person substituted these low CO2 foods with the same portion of servings that are commonly eaten, that person would save 1,717kg of CO2 emissions being released each year.

If you had a meal with dairy milk, beef, avocadoes and tomatoes, it would total to about 15kg of greenhouse gases, per serving. Whereas, if you substituted that meal with more sustainable items, such as oat milk, tofu, potatoes, peas, and locally produced fruit, you would have a meal that would cost the planet 0.3kg! The more people who make this change, the more the market will follow to meet the change in demand. It would be helpful for more companies to show the impact that their products have on the planet, in terms of CO2 emissions, and otherwise. This would mean that individuals can make their own decisions on how much they impact the planet through their choices.

In particular, I am hopeful that Jempson’s supermarket will move many of its excellent green alternative options that they have at their Peasmarsh branch, to the Rye branch. However, to do this, they need to know that the demand in Rye is sufficient to justify the change of use for the more limited space in the Rye location – such as for alternative milks, including self-serve refills, and other package-free foods.

If readers of this article would support these green initiatives for Jempson’s Rye branch, please show your interest in the comments so that Jempson’s can see that we support it.

[1] Half a Degree and a World Apart: The Difference in Climate Impacts Between 1.5˚C and 2˚C of Warming | World Resources Institute (wri.org).

[2] COP26: World headed for 2.4C warming despite climate summit – report – BBC News.

[3] Climate Change and the Worst-Case Scenario by Simon Beard | IPPR.

[4] Global warming causes 300,000 deaths a year, says Kofi Annan thinktank | Climate crisis | The Guardian.

[5] cft.dvi (pppl.gov).

[6] Why relying on new technology won’t save the planet | Lancaster University.

[7] Remaining carbon budget – Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) (mcc-berlin.net).

[8] Climate change food calculator: What’s your diet’s carbon footprint? – BBC News

Image Credits: Margot Richard on Unsplash .

8 COMMENTS

  1. Lenka why not make your own oat milk ,cheaper and no non recyclable packaging.
    Oh on a lighter note don’t make a chocolate drink, isn’t coco grown abroad like avocados …and that needs energy , carbon foot print , to convert into chocolate…Avocados don’t need cooking.
    Oat milk is nice though..and Soya milk…but those cartons aren’t easily recycled..the plastic containers for milk can be recycled.. no perfect solutions…but keep trying…
    And agree the article is very interesting and a lot of research has gone into it..congratulations Oriana Marrs.

  2. Thank you Oriana for a very concise article making the key point that we are all going to have to change the way we live and what we eat and we need to do it now.
    Most meat and milk in the supermarkets is cheap because it is produced on an industrial scale and the animals are fed on relatively cheap imported grains including genetically modified maize from America and Brazilian soya.
    I am an organic beef and sheep farmer (In Iden) and our animals eat only grass grown on the farm.
    The meat we produce has a much smaller carbon footprint. Our grass fields also put carbon back into the soil.
    Organic meat is more expensive but if we all eat less meat then there might be some savings and these could be spent on a small amount of organic grass-fed meat – preferably local too!

  3. The manipulated Co2 emisission figures of eating beef and dairy, were originally taken from the vast feedlots and mega dairies of America and certainly do not reflect the sustainable grass fed livestock that we all see around Rye and Romney Marsh. The permenant pasture in these areas would actually absorb more Co2 than the emmisions that farming livestock would produce.

    As for eating tofu, it’s a no thanks from me. It is a processed food, made from imported soya that is grown on huge areas of deforestation Amazon rainforest Hardly a great culinary swap, as these areas were once the lungs of the World.

    Due to the British climate, most of the ingredients of a plant based diet have to be flown in from around the globe. Therefor buying a locally sourced grass fed joint of beef ,might actually be the answer to saving the planet !

  4. Simon Wright has made the point extremely well about why it is best to eat local beef and lamb from the Marsh pastures that grow around Rye. Virtually no artificial fertilizer is used and the grass and clover that grows here is natural and with good grazing management never needs replanting and the grasslands have been absorbing Co2 for decades.

    On the issue of oat milk, it should be remembered that to grow oats you need to cultivate land and use large quantities of diesel and fertilizer to get a crop that needs harvesting and transporting using fossil fuels. The oat milk needs calcium, vitamin B and vitamin D added to it to make it comparable to real milk.
    Much easier and better for the planet and the consumer if the cows eat the grass that absorbs the Co2.

  5. Thank you Oriana for this informative article.
    I would like Rye Jempsons to add more ethical produce in the same aisle alongside existing produce (less Heinz more Suma!). They could use their Peasmarsh experience and start by adding their best selling refills and focus on their more affordable range.
    I am vegetarian and trying to cut back on dairy products and where possible buy local and organic. When it comes to tofu I look for the organic, low carbon footprint option with minimum packaging (currently Tofoo which is made in Norfolk from soya produced in Canada). I am wary of offsetting carbon footprints.
    Personally I am for local, organic, grass fed beef/milk for a low consumption and believe we need to shift towards a more vegan diet. This would include smaller portions of protein and more of local veg, not too processed, less food waste and minimum packaging. Ethical food need to be available for all budgets and I need to cut back on dark chocolate even if it is organic!

  6. Good job Oriana.
    Having been in the food industry all my life, I know that the amount of unnecessary packaging and ludicrous Food Miles is a huge issue. But as you say, if everyone starts by doing their bit, things will eventually change.
    Luckily your generation has understood and reacted to the problem.
    As usual in great polarising debates, look at who stands with you. Are you happy to be counted amongst them. You are on the right side of History.
    I look forward to reading more from you.

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