Sue Dibb is coordinator of the Eating Better Alliance.
2015 ended with an historic climate deal in Paris – to keep global temperature rise below 1.5oC. When most of us think about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we think about burning fuel, we think about transport – the cars we drive and the flights we take. We maybe think about wasting less food. But rarely do we think about what we eat.
Yet a missing trick stares us in the face three times a day – it’s what we’re eating. With a staggering third of global GHG emissions coming from the food system, 2016 is the year we need to wake up to how food and farming can help us deliver better health for people and the planet. Meat is typically the most GHG intensive part of our diet, accounting for at least 14.5% of global GHG emissions – as significant as emissions from transport.
We haven’t a hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change if we continue to ignore the impact of the meat in our diets. One vital, simple step is for people in high consuming countries, including the UK, to eat less and better meat and a greater variety of plant-based foods. This will have benefits for our health and the health of our planet – new research says reducing meat & dairy consumption by half would reduce heart disease and cancer, and cut GHG from agriculture by up to 42%.
To help focus attention on what’s needed to shift our eating habits, the Eating Better alliance has launched its 2016 Policy Recommendations. We’re delighted that the Sustainable Restaurant Association is one of the 47 environmental, public health, animal welfare and responsible food organisations backing the alliance’s proposals. These include putting food and agriculture centre-stage in strategies to tackle climate change; updating the UK’s official healthy eating guide – the eatwell plate – for sustainability and introducing healthy & sustainable procurement standards for public sector caterers including hospitals.
We can’t legislate for behaviour change – but food companies have an important role in changing the food choices we’re offered. The restaurant sector and chefs are at the forefront of creating this necessary shift in our food culture. We’re already seeing ‘flexitarian’ eating (meat eaters who happily choose meat-free dishes) become one of the top trends for 2016 – whether for health, environmental or animal welfare reasons.
And there is much to promote about creative, delicious vegetable-inspired dishes with their positive health messages – rather than a message of going without. Putting these choices higher up menus – or more upfront on food service counters – rather than a hidden away ‘vegetarian’ selection can create change by stealth. And not forgetting the all important business case, serving less meat means more to spend on upgrading to a ‘better’ meat offer. With meat increasingly under the spotlight – provenance and quality sit alongside higher welfare, environmental sustainability and local distinctiveness.