How to Eat for Planetary Health, from a Sustainability Officer Who Knows
The Beet got this Op-Ed from Sandra Noonan, Sustainability Officer for the fast-casual food chain, Just Salad. We welcome views from plant-leaning and plant-forward companies and want our readers to know that this is an unpaid placement, and the views here are her own.
More than half of Americans feel helpless about climate change, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. But feelings of helplessness and the reality of the situation are not the same. In fact, we have the power to prevent--or at least lessen--our impact on climate change. That power is with us every time we sit down for a meal. It's as simple as choosing to eat a mostly plant-based diet.
Eating a plant-rich diet is one of the top five things we can do to reduce our climate footprint and lower greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because the food system accounts for one-quarter ofglobal greenhouse gas emissions. The American diet averages 4.7 kg CO2e, per day, according to researchers who have quantified it. Over a year, that is equal to driving 4,200 miles, or burning 1,900 pounds of coal, according to EPA data.
That's Where You Come In, With Your Choices of Eating Mostly Plant-Based
For those of us lucky enough to have plenty of food choices, this means we exercise an enormous amount of power every time we make a decision about what to eat. Consider this breathtaking statistic: There would be no net increase—zero!—in food-related emissions by 2050 if the global diet were along the lines of the Mediterranean, pescetarian, and vegetarian or plant-based diets, according to a study published in the journal Nature. That’s because meat production accounts for more than half of our food’s carbon footprint, and the most planet-friendly diets consume little to no animal protein.
To bring this closer to home, at Just Salad, where I am the Sustainability Officer, we quantified the carbon footprint of various proteins on the menu and compared them to U.S. beef choices. The results are shown below. Their carbon footprints are a fraction of beef’s carbon impact of 3 kg/Co2e per ounce.
I believe in eating for planetary and human health, and I see a future where the carbon footprint of food is disclosed on your menu in the same way that calories and fat are shown on a nutrition label. We're already taking a step toward at Just Salad. This week, our customers will receive a $2 discount on three of the most planet-friendly items on our menu, as measured by their carbon footprint: Our Avo Blast Toast (0.1219 kg CO2e), Beyond Tex Mex Salad (0.1445 kg CO2e), and Tokyo Supergreens with Organic Tofu (0.2067 kg CO2e).
Making one’s meals as plant-centric and planet-friendly as possible, and choosing foods with minimal processing and packaging, is a bonafide way to lower greenhouse gas emissions and act as a responsible global citizen.
Our planet is on course to warm by up to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2040. Pick your reason for finding that unacceptable: More infectious disease outbreaks, human suffering, the extinction of species and coral reefs, drought-induced threats to our food supply, cities, and regions rendered uninhabitable by rising water levels, or just the moral failing of humanity to have prevented this. Let's all do our part to make the planet a healthier place today and every day.