The Kritic

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Eating fewer calories and more plant-based foods will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A groundbreaking study by Tulane University and the University of Michigan published in Environmental Research Letters found that meat, dairy and egg consumption is responsible for nearly 84 percent of food-related greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Scientists analyzed the effects of more than 300 foods and the diets of 16,000 Americans. They found that only 20 percent of Americans, those who eat the most animal products, make up 46 percent of diet-related emissions overall on an average day.

Plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, cereals and grains, and nuts and seeds, make up a mere 3 percent of diet-related emissions. Legumes were found to be the least harmful to the planet, with pulses accounting for just 0.3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Reducing the impact of our diets—by eating fewer calories and less animal-based foods—could achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” said Martin Heller, a researcher at the University of Michigan. “It’s climate action that is accessible to everyone, because we all decide on a daily basis what we eat.”

This is hardly the first time eating animal products has been deemed harmful to the planet. Last year, the Alliance of World Scientists, a group of 15,000 scientists from 184 countries, concluded that humans must change their behaviour and switch to a plant-based diet to prevent environmental destruction.

Raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, planes, and other forms of transportation combined. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, carbon dioxide emissions from raising farmed animals make up about 15 percent of global human-induced emissions, with beef and milk production as the leading culprits. In fact, even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565-gigaton CO2e limit by 2030.

Furthermore, simply by avoiding animal products, we can cut our carbon footprints in half. A pound of beef requires 13 percent more fossil fuel and 15 times more water to produce than a pound of soy.

There is no such thing as sustainable meat. Plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs take a mere fraction of the resources to produce than their animal-based counterparts. It’s time for anyone who cares about the future of our planet to take action and ditch animal-based products altogether.

But a vegan diet isn’t just good for the planet; it also spares countless animals a lifetime of misery at factory farms. Pigs, cows, chickens, and other farmed animals suffer terribly from birth to death.

So what are you waiting for? Join the millions of people who are helping to protect farmed animals and the planet by switching to a vegan diet. Click here to get started. And check out Mercy for Animals’ Pinterest page for thousands of recipe ideas.

This article was originally published at AlterNet.
By Joe Loria, communications and content manager at Mercy For Animals
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One person’s trash is another person’s breakfast.

One person’s trash is another person’s breakfast.Sascha Kohlmann CC BY

Each year, Australian households throw out some A$8 billion worth of edible food, with those aged 18 to 24 reported as the biggest wasters.

However, this household figure is likely far outweighed by the value of food waste generated by commercial retailers. In truth, our youth are but one contributor to what could be deemed a massive market failure.

But some people are looking for different ways to approach food and waste. Over three months I interviewed 21 young environmentalists from Melbourne, exploring how and why they began “dumpster diving”: searching waste bins for food.

While there are many reasons why someone might choose – or be forced by economic circumstances – to investigate trash, the young people I spoke to cited a range of motivations: to reduce waste; to create a sense of community; and because they did not want to support unsustainable food markets.

Dumpster divers, like these young Montrealers, are all over the world.

Dumpster divers, like these Montrealers, are all over the world.Stéphanie Vé CC BY-NC-SA

Understanding dumpster diving

Food waste is estimated to cost the Australian economy A$20 billion a year (this includes commercial and industrial sector waste, as well as waste disposal charges).

The Australian government is developing legislation with the aim of halving food wastage by 50%. Effective solutions could result in tremendous savings and considerable environmental benefit.

While dumpster diving is obviously not a wholesale solution to the problem of food waste, young consumers’ changing attitudes are an important part of our national conversation.

My findings show that Melbourne’s young environmentalists regularly visit dumpsters at vegetable markets, supermarkets and bakeries.

My interviewees were motivated to dumpster dive by a range of factors besides the obvious gain of free food and goods. Framing the deed as economic necessity fails to capture a variety of incentives.

It’s worth noting that the limited demographic I studied means these results cannot be associated with those who dumpster-dive out of genuine need. Rather, those I interviewed wanted to reduce food waste and avoid supporting the “mainstream” food economy. One young environmentalist told me:

I never in my childhood and afterwards had a shortage of food in my life. I think the reason that I started [dumpster diving] and one of the main reasons that I continue it is because I think it’s environmentally a good thing to do […] I am not buying things. I am not contributing to unsustainable food production.

Several participants said they refused to buy from companies with unacceptable environmental credentials. For them, dumpster diving is not an occasional activity but a planned and ongoing way of life. They attempt to create an alternative “free” food economy based on minimising waste and sharing resources.

However, members of the group are aware of opposition to the practice. Several had experienced confrontations with retail staff, security guards and members of the public. One interviewee said:

I think they [supermarket authorities] worry about losing business [as] people get food from their bins, not from the supermarket; it’s a part of their worry as well. They ask me to leave. I ask, ‘Why?’ It’s ridiculous. Why can’t they let me have this food that will probably end up in landfill?

Feel-good and fun

Dumpster divers are also motivated by the emotional bonds they form as a group. They’re part of a broader subculture of “alternative” consumers, who commonly share food; they describe themselves as “a community of free food people”.

Several expressed a “feel good” and “fun” dimension to the activity. Acquiring unpredictable “finds” created a sense of novelty and surprise, and a feeling that the rewards were “worked for”. They mirror more traditional shopping habits like “treasure-hunting”, or the thrill of finding a bargain.

Retailers’ perspective

Businesses have a mixed attitude towards dumpster divers.

Businesses have a mixed attitude towards dumpster divers.Bruce Flingerhood CC BY

From a retailer’s perspective, dumpster diving presents a different face. Although one interviewee accused retailers of protecting their profits, there’s also the risk of a dumpster diver being injured, or getting sick from unsafe food.

While some companies actively support or are empathetic towards dumpster divers, others call for the prosecution of divers whom they believe to be stealing. Diving is illegal in many developed countries such as Germany and New Zealand (although prosecutions are rare).

Everybody involved in the food chain has a role to play in reducing food waste. Retailers can work to optimise their supply chain, reduce the amount of produce on display or accept less-than-perfect produce from farmers. Products approaching expiring should be heavily discounted, or donated to charities (although food banks aren’t a panacea).

We as consumers should also be willing to adjust our expectations of perfect produce, something explored in the ABC program War on Waste and campaigns like the United States’ Ugly Fruit and Veg.

More fundamentally, we need to change our attitude to food. Thinking about why and how we create waste and exploring different perspectives – like dumpster diving – are all part of this process.

The ConversationUltimately, the purpose of dumpster diving is to highlight and provide an alternative to the food waste embedded in everyday business models. At the end of the day, the way forward is for each of us to consider and reflect on our own habits of consumption.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
By Chamila Perera, Lecturer, Swinburne University of Technology
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