Are You a Climatarian? If You Care About How Your Food Impacts the Planet, Yes!

|Updated Jul 18, 2022
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Do you find yourself thinking about the planet when buying groceries? Or do you avoid meat and dairy to lower your carbon footprint? If so, then you're a "climatarian" the term for someone who considers the impact of their food choices on the planet as they make their selections.

Fully 55 percent of consumers today consider the sustainability of their food choices when grocery shopping, according to a recent survey. A whole new language is growing around this trend, which includes "low impact foods" and the desire to lower your carbon "food print."

The term climatarian was initially conceived in 2015 to categorize a growing population of shoppers that prioritized the planet and are concerned with climate change. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a climatarian as "a person who chooses what to eat according to what is least harmful to the environment." Now, just 7 years later, climatarians represent the majority of shoppers.

What do climatarians eat?

The climatarian diet consists primarily of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts, and seeds (and anything that is growable), and avoids any meat and dairy product, especially anything that was produced on factory farms. Many flexitarians (who eat less meat and are more plant-based) as well as so-called "reducetarians," who are cutting way back on meat and dairy and focusing on plant-based meals,  are doing so for the planet – and therefore can also be considered climatarians.

So whether you are also a pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based, if one of your motivations is a concern for the environment, you are also a climatarian. Some people go plant-based for their health, others for the sake of animal welfare, and still more out of environmental concerns, but a new statistic shows that the fastest-growing reason people give is climate change.

Consumer Awareness

The climate crisis is no longer a future worry but is showing up regularly in the lives of Americans in the form of storms in the Midwest, floods along the East Coast, fires (in the North West), droughts in California, and unusual weather events almost on a weekly basis. In the year 2021, the effects of climate change revealed themselves on the evening news to anyone paying attention.

Extreme weather events cost the US $145 billion in damages and many hundreds of lives lost, according to the US National Centres for Environmental Information (NCEI). That's more than all the years 2016 to 2019 combined. Meanwhile, 2020 was also a tragic year for climate disasters, with a record 22 disasters that cost over $1 billion each, for a total of  $102 billion in climate losses across the country.

The United Nations released a "Code Red" report in 2021 that states the climate is on the brink of heating up faster than humans have ever experienced and is nearing the point of no return. The paper urged first-world nations to cut back on eating meat and dairy since the agricultural industry accounts for one of the largest CO2 and methane emissions that are contributing to the climate crisis by heating up the planet in what's known as the greenhouse effect.

The UN detailed in three separate reports how close the planet is to a tipping point, where humans can no longer prevent the future heating up of our environment, or reverse the damaging effects of climate change. Life as we know it, including our food systems, will no longer be sustainable if the current levels of heating continue at 3º F every decade.

With the climate crisis at our doorsteps and no lesser authority than the UN report emphasizing the importance of switching our food system to be more plant-based, consumers are now fully aware that what they eat directly correlates with greenhouse gas emissions.

If individuals all chose to eat a more plant-based diet and minimize energy waste and choose to reduce our transportation emissions (by using public transportation, for instance), we can all help to reduce global carbon emissions by an encouraging 90 percent in the next 15 years, the think tank RethinkX stated in a report entitled “Rethinking Climate Change.”

It isn't all bad news, and the last thing that climate experts want is for people to be so overwhelmed that they give up and stop trying. That is the message of the third installment of the UN's IPCC report: there is still hope. It revealed that if governments and consumers make simple swaps such as eating more plant-based and giving up red meat and dairy, then we can dial back the worst of our greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming in time.

Just by introducing planet-friendly purchases, you can make a huge impact on your personal climate footprint. As consumers continue to consider the climate cost of the foods they buy, climatarianism will continue to become even more prevalent because it offers everyone a daily, accessible and effective solution.

Climatarians Are On Track

Diets make a massive difference. While you may think of polluting industry as the largest climate problem, in fact, industrial farming – and especially meat production – poses an even bigger opportunity to save C02 and methane emissions, according to a 2020 study. By lowering our reliance on meat and dairy we, as climatarians, have the potential to make a significant difference.

In a UC Santa Barbara paper, ecology professor David Tilman explained that even if all other fossil fuel burning came to a halt and we continued to eat the way we do, we would exceed our climate goals, and cumulative greenhouse gas emissions "could still cause global temperatures to exceed climate change targets in just a few decades."

Still, climatarians are on track since making these changes is the key to success and there is reason to be optimistic that if we do, we can have the outcome we are hoping for – and you don't have to do it every single meal to have a positive impact. Eating plant-based as little as twice a week for a year is the equivalent of planting 14 billion trees, minimizing land use, and reversing deadly greenhouse gas emissions.

A relatable fact that climatarians can repeat: Eating plant-based one day saves enough water to take 100 showers and saves the equivalent of driving your car for one day. Eating just one plant-based meal a day for a year saves the carbon equivalent of driving from New York to Los Angeles, according to Suzy Amis Cameron, who started a movement called One Plant-Based Meal a Day.

Saving the Environment

With well over $100 billion in annual cost to the US from environmental disasters in recent years, it's clear that climate change has arrived. Scientists are united in their belief that the fastest and most effective solution is to change our diets. Simply shifting to a more plant-based diet is not only planet-friendlier but also healthier, and has been linked to lowering your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and several types of cancer.

Food companies meet demand

By switching to plant-based foods, you support plant-based farmers rather than the meat and dairy industries known to be more polluting than grain and vegetable or fruit growers. As demand for plant-based foods is expected to grow fivefold in this decade, even major food producers such as Tyson, Kellogg, and Nestle have started to expand their plant-based offerings of meat alternatives and are only expected to expand into this area further. even Hormel is getting into the act, having just released a plant-based chili.

Recently, Unilever – one of the biggest food companies worldwide – urged people to turn to plant-based foods, claiming plant-based to have the most positive impacts on our planet.

Protecting Animals from Extinction

For climatarians, stopping the climate crisis and protecting the environment is the highest priority. But saving the environment means saving every living being on Earth. Eating for the environment means protecting biodiversity both in the rainforest and the wild as well as considering the welfare of farmed animals. Extinction happens when the rainforest is burned, bulldozed and ecosystems are destroyed.

Even partially eating plant-based could save more than 500 species from the verge of extinction. A study out of the UK concluded that eating plant-based could help foster biodiversity and protect approximately 626 species from losing habitable areas. The study points out that factory farming requires significantly more land than plant-based alternatives. For reference, an Impossible Burger requires 78 times less land than a conventional beef burger.

Sales of meat-free fast food alone last year saved 630,000 animals and simultaneously reduced water, land, and energy waste from animal-food production.

Here's Where to Start

Looking to eat better for the planet and for your health? Check out The Beet's plant-based Beginner's Guide. Regardless of whether you take the approach of being a reducetarian, flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan, or go partly plant-based, you are a climatarian if you manage any shift towards a more sustainable, plant-based diet that benefits the planet