Eating sustainably for a better planet

Chicken, pork, beef, and more—meat is a heavy part of our diet. Most of our meals will invariably include some form of meat product. In fact, Hong Kong people are believed to be one of the biggest meat consumer worldwide.[1] Meat is a nutritionally-dense food and an essential source of nutrients for many communities,[2]however our love for meat also comes with far-reaching environmental impacts.

For one, food systems are a key driver of climate change, being responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity.[3]Meat alone contributes to almost 60% of those emissions, doubling that of plant-based foods.[4]

Greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food (Image source: United Nations)

Animal agriculture also drives deforestation and biodiversity loss, converting forests into pastures or cropland for food and livestock feed.[5] At the same time, it produces significant volumes of wastewater—rich in organic matter and pathogens—that can lead to eutrophication and contamination in water bodies if discharged untreated.[6]

Seafood, which is thought to have a smaller footprint than other animal proteins, can have higher carbon emission depending on how the fish is caught,[7]and almost all fish stocks are fully exploited or overfished today.[8]

Percentages of sustainable and unsustainable fishery stocks (Image source: FAO)

Shifting away from meat-heavy diets not only has wide environmental benefits, eating less red meat can lower health risks associated with heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, and more.[9]

For years, plant-based meats have been marketed as an alternative for people who still want to enjoy the bite and taste without the associated guilt of meat. Even in Hong Kong, they can be found in supermarkets and in some fast food restaurants. Extreme heat, floods, and droughts around the world are however threatening crop harvests such as grains and pulses, which are staple ingredients for plant-based meat.[10]

Various plant-based meat products (Image source: Joseph De Leo)

Fermentation is another process to create non-animal proteins but using microorganisms. We traditionally use fermentation to make bread, dairy products, soy sauce, and more. New techniques allow us to culture alternative proteins in large volumes efficiently or to produce specific ingredients.[11] Precision fermentation specifically has the advantage of better replicating the taste and texture of the original product without needing to add high levels of fats and flavourings.[12]

Investors are taking notice of the opportunity of alternative protein (Image source: World Economic Forum)

Tackling climate change will not just require decarbonising our energy supplies and transportation; cutting down on how much meat we eat is an important part of reducing our carbon and eco-footprint. There are more and more options now to let you eat healthy and sustainable without completely sacrificing the taste and bite of meat. Even if you don’t want to fully commit to a plant-based diet, you can still pay attention to what you eat by choosing animal proteins with a smaller footprint (e.g., chicken, certain fishes). Let’s try eating sustainably today!

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