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How to be an ethical Omnivore

The environment is always under strain when food production occurs.

How sustainable your diet is can be affected by the choices you make in daily meals.

Even though vegetarian and vegan diets are more sustainable, not everyone is ready to stop eating meat.

This article will discuss the main effects of food production on our environment and how we can eat meat and vegetables more sustainably.

Here’s how you can be an ethical omnivore.


Producing food for human consumption has an environmental impact.

With the increasing population, the demand for food, water, and energy continues to increase, which leads to more stress on the planet.

These resources are not inexhaustible. However, it is important to be educated about them so that you can make better food choices.

Use of agricultural land

Land use is one of the most important modifiable variables in agriculture.

Half of the world’s land available for cultivation is now used for agriculture ( 1Trusted source).

Particularly, some agricultural products like livestock, lamb, mutton, and cheese take up most of the world’s agricultural land ( 2Trusted Source).

When grazing pastures are included and land used for animal feed, 77% of the global agricultural land use is accounted for by livestock ( 2Trusted source).

They make up only 18% of the global calories and 17% of the protein of the entire world ( 2Trusted Source).

Industrial agriculture is destroying wild habitats and causing more destruction to the environment.

Positively, agricultural technology has dramatically improved over the 20th century and into the 21st century ( 3Trusted source).

This technology improvement has led to a higher crop yield per unit area, which means that less land is required to produce the same amount.

We can make a positive contribution to creating a sustainable food system by avoiding conversions of forest land into agricultural land.

Join a land preservation organization in your locality to help.

Greenhouse gases

Another environmental impact of food production is greenhouse gases. Food production accounts for about 25% of all global emissions.

The major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (MET), nitrous oxide ( NH0_), and fluorinated gas ( 6 ).

Climate change is attributed to greenhouse gases (Trusted Source: 8, 9TrustedSource, 10, 11TrustedSource).

Out of the 25% contribution that food production makes to the world, livestock and fisheries make up 31%, crop production 27%, crop production 27%, and land use 24%.

Consider that different agricultural products can contribute different amounts of greenhouse gasses, so your food choices could have a significant impact on your carbon footprint. This is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted by one person.

Continue reading to learn how you can reduce your carbon footprint and still enjoy the same delicious foods that you love.

Water use

Although water seems like an endless resource to most people, water scarcity is a common problem in many parts of the world.

About 70% of freshwater consumption worldwide is attributed to agriculture.

However, each agricultural product uses different amounts of water in its production.

Cheese, nuts, farmed salmon, and prawns are the most water-intensive items to make. Next, there are dairy cows ( 2Trusted Source).

This is why more sustainable agriculture practices are a great way to reduce water consumption.

This includes drip irrigation over sprinklers, capturing rainwater, and growing drought-tolerant plants.

Fertilizer runoff

Last but not least, fertilizer runoff is another major effect of traditional food production that I want to mention. Also known as eutrophication.

Excessive nutrients can enter the environment and waterways when crops are fertilized. This can lead to the disruption of natural ecosystems.

It’s possible to believe that organic farming might be the solution, but this is not always true ( 13Trusted source).

Organic farming methods cannot be used with synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. However, organic farming methods can still be chemical-free.

Hence, switching to organic products won’t solve all the runoff problems.

Organic Products are less pesticide-resistant than conventionally farmed counterparts ( 14).

Although you cannot directly influence the fertilizer practices on farms, consumers can advocate for more eco-friendly options such as cover crops or planting trees to reduce runoff.

How to eat healthier

These are just a few ways you can eat sustainably.

Is it worth eating locally?

Reducing your carbon footprint is a common recommendation.

Although eating local makes intuitive sense, it doesn’t seem to have the same impact on sustainability as you might expect. However, there may be other benefits.

Recent data has shown that food is more important than its origin. Only a small percentage of the overall greenhouse gas emissions from food comes from transportation ( 15).

This means that choosing poultry over beef has a greater impact, regardless of origin.

Nonetheless, there are some categories where eating locally can help reduce your carbon footprint. These include highly perishable foods that need to be transported quickly due to their short shelf life.

These foods are often air-freighted which can significantly increase their total emissions by as much as 50 times that of shipping by sea ( 2Trusted Source).

These include fresh fruits and veggies, like asparagus, green beans, berries, and pineapples.

Important to remember that not all of the food supply is transported by air. Most are transported on large ships or trucks overland.

However, local eating can have other benefits such as supporting local farmers using more sustainable farming practices, eating according to the seasons, and knowing where your food comes from and how it was made.

Moderate consumption of red meat

83% of our dietary emissions are made up of protein-rich foods like meats, eggs, dairy products, and milk ( 16).

Beef and lamb rank highest in terms of carbon footprint.

It is because of their extensive land use, feeding needs, processing, and packaging.

Additionally, cows also produce methane during digestion, which further contributes to their carbon footprint.

Red meats emit about 60 kg CO2 equivalents per kilogram of meat, which is a common measure for greenhouse gas emissions. Other foods contribute significantly less ( 2Trusted Source).

For example, 6 kg of poultry, 5 kg of fish, and 4.5 kg of eggs are produced by chicken farming.

This is a comparison: 132, 13, and 11 pounds, 11 and 10 lbs of CO2 equivalents per kilogram of meat for red meats and poultry, as well as eggs.

Consuming less red meat can help reduce your carbon footprint.

Although purchasing grass-fed red meat from sustainable local farmers may reduce greenhouse gas emissions slightly, the data show that decreasing red meat consumption has a greater impact ( 17Trusted Source).

Get more plant-based protein

A great way to encourage ethical omnivore behavior is to eat more plant-based proteins.

Tofu, beans, and peas have significantly lower carbon footprints than most animal proteins ( 2Trusted source).

Although the nutritional content of these plants proteins can vary greatly from animal proteins, they can still be combined with the right portion sizes.

You don’t have to eat animal products if you include more plant-based proteins in your diet.

You can reduce the amount of animal protein in your diet by substituting one-half of the protein from a recipe for one made with plant-based protein.

You can, for example, substitute half the minced meat in a traditional chili recipe with tofu crumbles.

You’ll still get the taste of meat but the amount of animal protein has been reduced, which in turn will reduce the carbon footprint for that particular meal.

Reduce food waste

Reducing food waste is the last aspect I want to talk about when becoming an ethical Omnivore.

Globally, food wastage accounts for 6% of greenhouse gas production ( 2Trusted Source 18TrustedSource, 19).

This includes losses in the supply chain due to poor storage and handling. However, most of this food waste is caused by consumers and retailers.

These are some practical ways to reduce food wastage

  • If you aren’t planning to use them in the next few days, it is a good idea to buy frozen vegetables and fruits.
  • Buy vacuum-sealed frozen fish as it has the shortest shelf life of any meat.
  • All edible parts of fruits or vegetables can be used (e.g. stems of broccoli).
  • If your local supermarket does not have one, you can shop in the rejected produce bin.
  • Don’t buy more food than you actually need in a given time frame
  • Before buying perishable foods, make sure you check the dates
  • Plan your week’s meals so you know what to buy
  • You can freeze perishable foods you don’t plan to use the next day.
  • Organize your pantry and fridge so you always know what is in it
  • Making stock with leftover vegetables and bones
  • Get creative with your recipes and use the leftover foods that you have.

You can also save a lot on groceries by reducing food waste.

To reduce food waste and carbon footprint, you can try some of these methods.



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