Reduce meat and dairy consumption to reverse the impact of climate change

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on how we can live on a less meat diet that does not have a devastating impact on our planet.

When we talk about climate change, it mostly refers to reducing our air or food miles and moving from oil/coal to an environmentally friendly renewable option. One big factor is most often missed out in discussions and legislations at government or international levels; meat and dairy farming. Western meat and dairy diet are a big contributory factor to carbon emissions since the 80’s and has gotten worse with many poor and developing nations like China increasing meat in their diets from occasionally to every day! It’s not rocket science to understand the damage this will do to reduce our carbon footprint globally even if we make massive changes to other aspects of our lifestyle. Current data shows that meat and dairy farming is responsible for around 14% of greenhouse gasses.

Research shows that vegetarian and vegan diets are much more sustainable and climate friendly than meat consumption. So how do we go about achieving a reduction in meat and dairy in our diets? Simple solution is to reduce and ultimately stop importing these foods from other countries were its cheaper to produce them but as a consequence have a detrimental impact on the local ecosystems and people. For example, cattle raised on UK lands get access to greener pastures than those reared in South America where deforestation is creating a huge problem to local indigenous populations, their livelihoods and contributes to soil erosion due to pesticides and fertilisers used to generate single type of crops for Western consumption.

Unfortunately, subsequent studies have also shown that even if all Western countries shift to home produced meat solely fed on grass, then that too is not the solution as the already high consumption by countries and individuals will not make a dent in the carbon emissions. The only way forward is producing meat and dairy sustainably, locally and using organic farming methods.

Supermarkets sell milk and some meat products at cost or even at a loss in order to keep their customers coming through the doors. This practice alone not only distorts prices and the perception that meat is affordable but also creates huge amounts of food wastes that goes to landfill and money down the drain from the point of view of the customer. In the UK 4.5 million tons of edible food is thrown away by households and this also contributes to our carbon footprint.

A few years ago, food policy experts concluded that Western countries like the UK should adopt a radical method of eating, whereby they ate meat once a week and reduce milk to a maximum of one glass a day. If you convert to being a vegan and vegetarian than the impact improves dramatically. Growing up in India my family could only afford to buy meat once a week or on special occasions like birthdays. We had a very varied diet with fish, vegetables and pulses and food was cooked from fresh produce and ingredients bought on the day from the market. Only a radical change will stop the planet from tipping over. Tinkering at the edges and shifting the blame on countries like China where the local population want the lifestyle of the West will not help solve the issue. It’s time to act globally but we as citizens of Scotland need to act locally too as any small changes we make will collectively have an impact on polices that will help reduce our carbon footprint.

 Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 5th March 2021.