The diet that reduces your carbon footprint by 90% – but is it realistic?

Climatarianism. It may sound like a radical movement, but it’s the name given to a diet that is said to drastically reduce your carbon footprint. 

Jennie Macdiarmid, a professor of nutrition at the University of Aberdeen, wrote about a nutritionally balanced diet back in 2012 – a schedule including pasta, wholegrains and even sweets that she said reduces your carbon footprint by 90%.

While this is appealing to those of us wishing to play our part in the climate emergency, is it appealing enough for thousands, or millions, of people to take up?

You don’t have to go vegan

Central to many activists’ eco-friendly lifestyle is a vegan diet: completely avoiding animal products in favor of natural ingredients from plants and herbs. 

While a vegan lifestyle is definitely possible – as proved by the many vegans around the world – climatarianism doesn’t believe it’s essential in the fight to save the planet. Instead, we should look into the processing that goes into the food. 

In her study, Macdiarmid pointed out the ‘halo image’ that plant-based foods have attracted, but, in reality, many of them involve extra processing including the use of palm oil, which is harmful for the environment.

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The key is choosing foods that have required as little energy as possible to get onto your plate. Eggs from a local farmer, for example, are better for the environment than a processed vegan ready meal, which brings us on to the next area of the ‘climatarian’ diet. 

Shop local

We all know that ditching driving in place of walking, or just staying in, is better for the climate. We might choose to watch a football game at home instead of drive to the stadium or play on an online casino instead of flying to Las Vegas. Is shopping closer to home worth it, though?

The ‘climatarian’ diet seeks to avoid those long trips to the supermarket, with Macdiarmid singling them out for producing most of the ‘food miles’ when consumers shop. If we can reduce those, then we’ll also help reduce emissions. 

Yet the problem is time. Convenience stores have that name for a reason: they have all the food we need in one place, saving a trip to several shops that might take twice as long. 

Perhaps there’s a compromise. If you’re pushed for time, then look for the supermarket closest to you and walk there with your own shopping trolley. That way, you’ll get exercise as well as reducing your own carbon footprint. 

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If that’s not possible, if you live far from shops and convenience stores, then it’s difficult to follow the climatarian recommendations. In which case, growing your own fruit and vegetables to complement your food shopping might be a nice way to learn a thing or two and cut down on emissions in the process. 

Buy seasonal

Macdiarmid’s study recommends eating what is in season as way of reducing the use of artificial light, fertiliser and pesticide that go into growing plants outside their annual window. 

But where does this leave us in winter, especially if you live in Northern Europe? The options are limited to potatoes, pears and apples, maybe a few sprouts. 

This is perhaps the biggest challenge in being a climatarian – the lack of diversity, however there are some creative solutions. Seasonal calendars often conjure up a few surprises that we may not expect – for example, did you know that clementines are in season in November?

There are also a bunch of useful apps that help you make use of what you have in your cupboard, so there’s no excuse not to go seasonal!

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Work with supermarkets

Big companies, like wholesale retailers and supermarkets, are often the target of environmentalists, but the truth is we have to work with them.

Their product range might contain thousands of items, but technology can help us locate the most sustainable ones. Giki Badges, for example, lets you scan a product barcode and check whether it qualifies as ‘low carbon footprint’. Another is Evocco, which generates a carbon score of your shopping receipt from a single photo of it – very useful if you want to keep on top of your output.

These are quick, easy solutions that all of us can do when we visit a supermarket, yet it’s up to supermarkets to play their part, too. And there lies the crux of the problem – what we do as individuals counts for very little if big corporations don’t change their methods. 

Still, if you do want to play your part then the climatarian diet is, on the whole, an effective way to play your part. If it could become a way of life for millions of people, then we would be on the way to a cleaner, more sustainable planet.

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