We’ve got diets galore — Atkins, keto, vegan and South Beach, to name a few. Now, there’s a new kind on the block: the Climatarian diet.
As its name suggests, the Climatarian diet revolves around eating foods based on their effects on the climate. More specifically, it involves choosing foods with a low carbon footprint.
“You can use your power as a consumer to drive down the production of the types of meat which have the biggest impact on our climate,” the Less Meat Less Heat group says
of the Climatarian diet.
The group explains that adhering to the Climatarian diet requires a basic knowledge of the carbon footprint of meat
and dairy products. Even without that knowledge, anyone adopting the Climatarian diet should know this: Beef, lamb and goat rank as the meats with the largest carbon footprints.
According to Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health
, production of animal-based foods typically generates higher greenhouse gas emissions than production of plant-based foods. On the scale of greenhouse gas emissions, beef, lamb and goat rank highest among animal-based foods. Next in line are dairy (milk and cheese), pork and poultry.
How to follow the Climatarian diet
So, if you were to stick to a Climatarian diet, you would cut back on beef, lamb, goat, pork, poultry and dairy from your diet, or even eliminate them altogether.
What would that leave on the plate of possibilities? Fortunately, the plate is pretty full. Among foods that deliver a low carbon footprint, these are the ones with the lowest amount of greenhouse gas emissions per gram of protein (listed from least to greatest effect on the climate), according to the Chan School of Public Health:
Taking those low-footprint items into a consideration, a Climatarian diet closely mirrors a vegan diet
or vegetarian diet. You need not jump into a full-scale meatless Climatarian diet in order to help the climate, though. Rather, the American Lung Association points out
, we need a large-scale movement toward plant-rich diets.
“If 50% of the population tries to eat more plant-based
and cut down on meat and dairy in the ways they can, that will have a tremendously larger impact than 5% of the population going full vegan,” the Lung Association says.
To ease yourself into a Climatarian diet, the Lung Association recommends swapping out the meat in your meal with a plant-based protein a few times a week. Among the protein alternatives are chickpeas, beans, lentils, eggplant, cauliflower, tofu, tempeh, seitan and falafel.
The Climatarian diet is similar to the Reducetarian diet
, which stresses eating fewer animal products, such as red meat, poultry, seafood, dairy and eggs.
For Climatarian recipe ideas, The New York Times suggests
checking out the Kuri app
. (“Climatarian” appeared on the Times’ list of the top food words for 2015.) When you’re dining out, you might try restaurants like Chipotle, Just Salad and Panera Bread, which emphasize Climatarian items on their menus. There are even Climatarian-friendly food brands like Moonshot.
Positive impacts of the Climatarian diet
Now, why does all of this matter in the context of climate change?
“Our food system contributes over 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions,” the Lung Association says, “and current levels of meat and dairy consumption in high-income countries such as the United States are incompatible with remaining within a livable degree of global warming. Even if we were to eliminate the fossil fuel industry, the emissions from our food system alone would keep us in an unsafe position with the climate crisis.”
In particular, meat contributes significantly to methane emissions, which cause more short-term harm than carbon dioxide does, according to the Lung Association.
Aside from tweaking your diet, you can commit to a Climatarian lifestyle by paying attention to whether the meat you buy is locally sourced or factory-farmed, according to Rockefeller University
. Locally sourced meat produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions because it takes less energy to transport the meat than factory-farmed meat does.
In addition, you can promote a Climatarian lifestyle by avoiding packaged foods with lengthy lists of ingredients, Rockefeller University says. Why? Because each ingredient likely adds to the toll taken on the climate by greenhouse gases.
“Challenge yourself to try one of these practices every week, either one at a time or cumulatively,” Rockefeller University advises. “Mix and match until you find the habits that work for you, minimizing your footprint while maximizing your other priorities.”