This week, Louder Than The Storm’s Namitha Ragunath interviewed Frank Holleman, author of Fork Ranger, about how we as individuals can make a huge difference through the food we eat.
“Eating sustainably is like voting for the world you want to live in 3 times a day.”
Frank has always been a lover of the outdoors, often celebrating mother nature through activities like hiking, camping, and exploring. But with this deep appreciation of nature came the realisation that more has to be done to protect our planet.
“I wanted to find out more about the solutions for climate change, instead of only highlighting all the problems,” Frank tells me.
After extensive research, Frank found one clear answer was improving the way we eat... which meant that as individuals, our actions were greatly influential.
“Though there are many different types of solutions - like switching to solar panels, or reducing our dependence on cars and planes - sustainable food is an easy and cheap solution. It’s an area where things we do as individuals can really make a difference.
“Eating sustainably is like voting for the world you want to live in 3 times a day. People have to eat, so if a couple billion people improved the way they do so,the benefits would be huge.”
As individuals, we often rely on systematic changes within the industry to ensure our food is sustainable. However, when looking at basic demand and supply theories, it should excite us to acknowledge that our money and decisions can be the catalyst to change.
"Reports indicate that just a change in diets could reduce agriculture’s massive impact on the climate, and that when it comes to greenhouse gases, I personally believe what we eat is more important than how something is produced. Meaning the solution lies not just with the farmers, but with us,” Frank explains.
“Of course, the government has to step in at some point, but the government is not going to do that if nobody is demanding it. And right now the group demanding change is still a bit too small."
On a mission to help make this transition to sustainable eating easier, Frank decided to create his cook book “Fork Ranger: Solving Climate Change with Food” to provide healthy and tasty plant based recipes. “Now I would say I eat about 90% plant based throughout my week - and that is surprisingly easy. I know for people who are not on that journey it doesn’t feel like that could ever be easy, but once you learn how to cook in a new way, It’s not so difficult anymore.”
“The solution is eating less meat, not better produced meat”
If we were to list down all the sustainable improvements we could make to our diets, there would be a number of little changes we could implement. However, undeniably, the biggest and most efficient thing we could do as individuals would be to lower our meat consumption.
By reducing or eliminating our meat consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75%. It would also mean a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and deforestation.
“My philosophy is I want to make meat a luxury for the weekend. We don’t have to go zero-meat instantly, but we do need to eat less of it,” Frank says.
An Oxford University study claims that if every family in the UK removed the meat from just one meal a week, it would have the same environmental impact as taking 16 million cars off the road.
This solution is therefore much more efficient than, for example, eating grass fed beef or organic meat every other day.
“Right now the problem is no matter how we produce meat, we are eating too much of it. So simply eating organic or free-range or grass-fed doesn’t solve the problem. We simply don’t have enough space to keep eating this much meat.
“Though switching to better meat is part of the solution, it comes at a later stage. It’s not the solution we should start with.”
Frank believes that only after we reduce our meat consumption should we focus on making the meat we do consume more sustainable.
“Right now the demand for meat is too large, and we don't have the means to convert this level of meat consumption to a sustainable option.”
With this in mind, it is still worth noting the importance of choosing to eat more sustainable meats. Simply swapping out the least sustainable meat (beef) with chicken could reduce emissions by a fifth. This is because beef requires an extensive amount of resources. So although how a meat is produced is not a solution (free range, organic, etc) on its own, what meat you consume can still play a massive role in reaching a more sustainable future.
“The worst vegetable products are still better than the best meat products”
There are often many misconceptions about how sustainable a plant based diet really is. This is because it is not uncommon to be skeptical or confused about different forms of diets or the sustainability of different foods. But a general rule of thumb is that animal production will always be less efficient than vegetable farming.
“I think the problem is we never see things in context. We are bombarded with all kinds of information about how bad something is - whether this be soy, or even avocados. But even the worst vegetable products are better than the best meat products,”Frank suggests.
“The most common misconception is that soy is worse than meat. And the reason people say that is because soy is causing a lot of deforestation. That said, soy is mainly fed to the animals we consume. The human consumption of soy is not a problem. Animals compared to plants will always require more feed and energy, so it is less efficient to eat them.”
The same goes for concerns about almond milk, which requires a lot of water. But when looking at the larger picture, the water usage of almonds are nowhere as large as that needed to produce dairy milk.
By cutting out or cutting down on meat and dairy, you are already making a huge difference - so consuming plant products like avocados, soy, almond milk or tomatoes is not as detrimental or nearly comparable to the affects the meat and dairy industry has.
This is good news! We don't have to give up or reduce everything - rather just work on the things that are showing the biggest negative impacts. This serves as a reminder that for a brighter future, we don’t need a handful of people following sustainable diets perfectly, we need everyone doing it imperfectly. Change never falls on one person, but one person's positive actions will always go a long way. Let’s start our journey with the one thing we all love and adore: food!
By LTTS contributor Namitha Ragunath