It’s Veganuary and the climate crisis hasn’t gone away– should we all be eating mainly plant-based food?

By Bev Sedley, Cambridge Carbon Footprint

Every year more of us sign up for Veganuary, undertaking to eat a plant-based diet for a month. I’ve signed up for the first time – I normally aim to eat only plant-based food several days a week, but this time I’m aiming to be completely vegan for the month.

The food we eat plays a massive role in increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and we can all do something about it. As you see from the diagram, there’s an enormous difference in the carbon footprint of different foods, giving a lot of scope for reduction. The biggest single thing we can do is reduce the amount of meat and dairy we eat – the diagram compares different protein foods, showing clearly how much bigger the footprints of beef and lamb are.

You don’t have to give up meat and dairy completely to have an impact – reducing our consumption and buying better quality meat also helps. (Grass-fed cattle has a smaller footprint than cattle fed on soy grown on deforested land, but its footprint is still higher than non-meat protein alternatives such as beans and lentils.) Pork and chicken have a lower footprint than beef and lamb, but still higher than plant-based food.

Reducing our meat and dairy consumption is also better for our health – a win-win situation. (Meat is associated with heart disease, diabetes and pneumonia, among other diseases, and cheese with heart disease.)

One extra point if you’re going to increase your plant-based food consumption: try to avoid air-freighted fruit and veg, which can massively increase the carbon footprint. The easiest way to do this is to eat seasonally, so eat asparagus when it’s in season in the UK – it also tastes much better, too!

So far I’m really enjoying taking part in Veganuary. They send great emails, including a weekly planner and lots of recipes, how to ensure you eat a healthy diet. It’s actually brightened up my cooking, which had got pretty same-y. I’m also trying to stick mostly to local, seasonal veg – imagine how much better that’s going to be in July!

If you’d like to take action to reduce your food carbon footprint you can still sign up for Veganuary (till the end of January), calculate your carbon footprint on the Cambridge Carbon Footprint website, or play with the BBC’s calculator for a range of foods  – and watch out for Cambridge Sustainable Food’s Climate Diets campaign later this year.

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