Agriculture contributes to about 16% of the total greenhouse gas emission. Depending on which study to believe, if we would all go completely vegan we might save about 23% to 70% of greenhouse gas emission from our current food supply. This is between 3.68% to 11.2% of the total greenhouse gas emission. The big differences in the above percentages can be explained by the various ways of how the research was conducted. The most pessimistic greenhouse gas decrease took into account that currently part of the meat is recycled, that the meat has to be replaced with other food, that not all soil can be used for agriculture, and that some meat needs to stay available to feed our pets.
To eat less meat is, of course, a good idea, but according to many studies being vegan, we would lose out on important nutrients. Humans weren’t meant to be vegan and there are yet unpredictable health risks. Besides that, many people who try to find replacements for the nutrients that their body is missing from not eating animal products, ending up importing exotic foods (like avocados and nuts) from the other side of the globe. The greenhouse gas emission from transporting and conserving these exotic foods is also not good for the environment. Overall, the best option from an environmental perspective is often to eat locally produced food, native to the area and in season. Additionally, choose the most sustainable food that fits your budget. We often eat imported food because it is locally not available, only seasonally available, or just cheaper to produce in and buy from another country.
International trade isn’t just bad for the environment. It even has important secondary benefits for the environment, which I will explain later. So we shouldn’t completely stop importing food. Still we can be more conscious about what we eat and where it comes from. For this, it is good to keep in mind that certain foods grow better in certain climates and areas, while other areas are better for farming animals than growing crops. It even isn’t uncommon that the overall greenhouse gas emission of certain imported food is lower than that of food produced year-round in greenhouses. On top of this, growing and importing food from developing countries can help their local economy. A study from Eco and Beyond shows that lamb meat produced in New Zealand is even with the transport to the UK still more environmentally friendly than lamb meat produced in the UK itself. It might be an idea to give all the food we produce a carbon footprint label that includes production, transport and packaging. Ideally, we should limit the transportation of exotic foods, and instead consume these foods in the country where they grow. Like eating fresh bananas in Ecuador, sweet pineapple in Brazil, and avocados in Mexico. Eating food in countries where it grows doesn’t only avoid having to transport the food it will also highly improve its taste. I will never forget the great taste of the first South American pineapple I ate locally in Brazil. During that same journey, I also discovered that I actually do like oranges. I never liked the acid taste of the orange oranges sold in the Netherlands, but after tasting a sweeter yellow-orange from a local market I learned that oranges can have different tastes.
So maybe we can go on a two months holiday to Africa, travel around with public transport and eat low fat sustainable farmed ostrich meat in Africa. Meanwhile enjoying a sustainable safari to spot the Big 5 and visit/ help a local spekboom reforestation project. Just joking…
Recently scientists have found a new way to supply the whole world with plenty of food, limit the emission of greenhouse gas close to zero and provide us with enough nutrients. As you can read I’m talking about scientists, not farmers. They’re producing food made from microbes and water in a lab. When the bacteria are modified they will create the specific proteins needed for lab-grown meat, milk, and eggs. Other tweaks will produce lauric acid and even lab-grown fish! The carbohydrates that remain when proteins and fats have been extracted could replace everything from pasta flour to potato crisps. The hydrogen pathway used by Solar Foods is about 10 times as efficient as photosynthesis. From natural produced food (plants and animals) only a part can be eaten, while the bacterial flour creates only the eatable part. The food will be brewed in giant vats, so the amount of land occupied by the “brewery” will be roughly 20,000 times smaller than when the same amount of food would be cultivated with standard agriculture. Everyone on earth could be handsomely fed, using only a tiny fraction of its natural resources. Solar Foods’ future intention is to electrolyze the water they use with solar power, to become completely green. The first commercial factory built by Solar Foods should be running next year (2021).
To be honest, I don’t know if I like the idea of eliminating one of the foundations of humanity by eating food from a lab. Besides that, if we eliminate agriculture as a profession, we will lose at least 28% of jobs around the world. Part of these jobs might be replaced by new jobs in tourism (unless we also stop traveling), as both professions can easily create jobs for lower educated people. Still, I will be sad to see farming go from the sceneries of our world.