Reduce emissions one bite at a time: Start putting the planet before your protein

by SorayaOh on October 7, 2016 - 3:21pm

            What if reducing your impact on the climate can be cheaper than purchasing an electric car, easier than going off the grid, and more convenient than riding your bike to work? Would you take part if science had an answer, even if it meant a small sacrifice in appetite? 

            According to a new report, you can shrink your carbon footprint simply by reducing your intake of animal-based protein. The report done by the World Resources Institute and reported on by the Toronto Star in the article “What we eat has bigger consequences for the planet than we ever thought”, studied the effects of different diet shifts that would cut back on agricultural land use and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The results: reducing animal-based proteins in diets of 1.9 billion people could reduce agricultural land use by 13% and greenhouse gas emissions by 10%.

            The authors state that the goal is not to advocate for global vegetarianism, as that is not realistic, but instead to encourage a small diet shift that could have big impacts. Decreasing beef consumption would have the biggest single impact and could cut down GHGs and land use by 6%.

            Research on food sustainability is becoming increasingly vital as the population is expected to reach over 9 billion by 2050 and according to estimates by the United Nations, 70% more food will be needed by then. 

            This article did not surprise me as I have learned about the impacts of agriculture in school, and am myself a vegetarian. But, every time I see the numbers behind it I get a little more disheartened regarding the gravity of the situation. Our future relies on the choices we make now. Diet is one of the easiest things to change on a personal scale without relying on the state or stakeholders to make the sustainable decisions for the planet.

            Although the Canadian media draws attention to the issue of livestock and sustainability every once in a while, it does not usually delve deep or for long periods of time because Canadians can be very protective of their farming, especially beef and dairy. I noticed this in the summer surrounding the backlash when Earls, a Vancouver based restaurant chain, switched from Canadian beef to Certified Human Beef from the States. I was living in Alberta, where beef is a large part of the economy and there was a lot of uproar. Animal agriculture is heavily subsidized in Canada.

            This brings up the issue of having a staples economy. If our economy relies too heavily on raw materials, such as beef, it is not very sustainable and has to be managed effectively. But what about when we rely economically on these markets that cause environmental degradation?

          This is a value conflict in Canada when it comes to management because there are different ideas about what should be valued and prioritized by the state. I would argue that people should be encouraged (through advertisements, education, school curriculum, etc.) to pursue lifestyle choices such as diet that are best for the environment and health. But currently most outreach encourages Canadians to have pride in and support Canadian animal agriculture for the good of our economy, which clearly aligns with the values of the industry.

            This article shows that the science is in and we cannot ignore the impact of our industries and choices. I think it is time we start shaping the economy to fit environmental goals rather than sacrificing the environment to fit our economy. 


Original article:

Further reading regarding Earls:


I really enjoyed reading your blog. I think the layout is very well thought about and easy to ready. Your title drew me and the use of questions were thought provoking and engaging. I am not vegetarian which is why i was particularly attracted to this blog. I do think that if people were able to try and reduce the amount of meat they eat then this could definitely have significant improvements on emissions as highlighted by research, however i think the topic is complex and question if it is possible to change the habits of society? You say that you think that Canadians have pride in and support Canadian animal agriculture and i think this is an important point in that, in order to change, people need to want to change first and I believe this is what makes this a challenging topic to address as reducing meat is quite a big life style change.

I found this post extremely attention grabbing and very well written. The title of course drew me in right away and I very much enjoyed reading the entire post, actually wanting to read more when it finished. The fact that average citizens such as ourselves can help the planet by sacrificing a small part of our diet daily is not surprising. A positive change from a group of people is better than no change at all, possibly influencing even more change once word gets around. Having tried going vegetarian myself, the number one reason I started was not only for the animals but for the environment. I have researched many facts like the ones in this post, and it made me happy to see that we can in fact majorly help the planet solely through our diets. I agree that we must get out of this staples trap that the economy has brought upon us. I too believe that one way to encourage this is through educational means. What better way to get this message across than by first reaching out to the younger generations. If every school had a speaker come in to promote this way of life, the message would surely take off. Also with media being a great platform, this is the perfect way to show how they can achieve this way of life. If there was an app created to virtually bring together people who have taken on this new way of life to help the environment; I believe this would create a chain reaction. This app could allow members to communicate about their personal experiences and dietary means. Also, graphically displaying the reduction of emissions and land degradation could help motivate members to continue this way of life. The app could allow you to seek other members locally and together help get the word out in their communities. This does not mean the whole world has to go vegetarian in order to save our environment, but if we get enough people to completely cut out meat from their diets this would be a huge accomplishment.