Sustainable Nutrition: How to eat with the planet in mind 

Posted on Sunday, 31 January 2021 under Stories

We make multiple climate decisions every day, at every meal without even realizing it. What we choose to eat can help save our planet and these choices add up. What is required to mitigate climate change is a reduction in “animal source foods” such as red meat and dairy by more than 50 percent, and choosing climate-friendly meat when we do eat it. Researchers suggest we replace these foods with plant-based alternatives. Many people have turned to the vegan diet while others have simply reduced the number of times a week they consume meat. Overall, we need to make space for change in our diets to help the environment.

The International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report, authored by more than 100 international experts, says a “shift toward plant-based diets” is an important way to reduce GHG emissions and mitigate climate change. Share on X

Dr. Jennifer Black, Associate Professor with UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems says, “Moving toward more plant-based eating, particularly if it means reducing red meat intake from the kinds of animal foods that are among the highest environmental contributors, can be a viable way to promote conservation of soil, water, and air.”

various types of produce

Meat consumption is often criticized for its environmental, social, and ethical impacts. According to the federal government, crop and livestock production accounts for approximately ten percent of Canada’s GHG emissions. This is not to say we cannot eat meat sustainably. Agricultural practices have the capacity to sequester carbon in soil, perennial vegetation, and trees to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere.

Pasture-raised cattle is often highlighted as a way to minimize the environmental impacts of meat consumption. These grazing ruminant populations help restore degraded soil biodiversity through a practice known as regenerative agriculture. Numerous farmers across BC, such as Annamarie and Kevin Klippenstein, are dedicated to raising and sourcing organic, grass-fed meats. The Klippenstein’s focus on creative ways to incorporate such local products at their plant-forward restaurant, Row Fourteen. “Instead of garnishing your meat dish with some vegetables, we’re the opposite. We like garnishing our vegetable dishes with some meat,” says Annamarie.

It is important to recognize that meat is often an integral part of cultural heritage and identity and as such, diets are inherently heterogeneous. This makes it difficult for broad, evidence-based guidelines to resonate with diverse communities. Researcher and doctorate candidate Mirah Valdes’ recent study suggests that social factors such as culture, influence food decisions and definitions. “I think that there’s a lot of complexity in studying these types of diets. It’s hard to study these diets because vegetarianism can mean different things to different people,” says Valdes.

group of young people gathered around a table preparing a meal

Photo courtesy of Embark Sustainability

One local program that aims to bridge communal gaps through food is Embark Sustainability’s Community Kitchen. The event series is a platform to share plant-focused substitutions for traditional recipes. Organizers partner with the Simon Fraser Student Society Women’s Centre and work with university students to provide ingredients and increase access to local, sustainable produce. “Lately, our focus has been on really exploring the ways diets and culture intersect,” says Programs Manager, Melisa Tang Choy.

Canada’s food guide stresses the importance of incorporating plant foods that contain nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, and minerals to lower the risk of chronic disorders such as cardiovascular disease. Dr. Black says, “Focusing on plant foods can also be an easy way to include nutrient-rich foods that are filling and help us get the kinds of things many people need to be eating more of while helping us avoid things we tend to get too much of.”

While the benefits of eating more vegetables and plant-proteins are undeniable, it is important to recognize how unsustainable it is for many to adopt an entirely plant-based diet. Instead, be mindful of how often you eat meat and where it comes from. Reach out to your local ranchers and farmers for sustainable, ethical products to benefit yourself and the planet.

To learn more about BC farmers and ranchers working to mitigate climate change, check out our farmer story series.