Can Our Diet Have an Impact on The Climate?

Tomatoes grown under the Spanish sun have a better CO2 footprint than German tomatoes from a greenhouse. Boris Demrovski and Christian Noll are the initiators, publishers and authors of the cookbook Das Klimakochbuch which explains why we frequently underestimate the impact our diet has on the climate.

Mr Noll, Mr Demrovski, nutrition is a ongoing issue in the media. Why, on the other hand, do we give little to no consideration to the implications our diet has on climate change?

Noll: Nutrition and climate change are a more abstract notion than, for example, the relationship between traffic and the climate. Climate change manifests itself in a much more obvious way, we can observe the visible fumes coming out of our cars’ exhaust pipes. When it comes to food however, there is no visible chimney releasing CO2 into the air. There are lots of points along the supply chain where emissions are generated. It starts with the production of fertilisers, which is extremely energy-consuming. Emissions are also generated on the fields and the paddocks, as well as during transport, chilling, processing and disposal. This is a much more complex scenario. There might already be some awareness, but it is still too confusing for the consumer. Where can we start? Which of our habits would we have to change?

Demrovski: That's correct. Eating is a double-edged sword with both positive as well as negative connotations. That is what makes it so difficult to instigate concrete changes. Taking myself as an example, I eat 3 meals a day. That means that I have to first be aware and then take care to do the right thing by the climate, 3 times every day. In our already packed daily lives, this adds another layer of complexity that each of us would have to deal with. It's a monumental task.

 

But isn't that precisely the challenge your cookbook demands us to face?

Demrovski: Not necessarily. Eating is an effortless activity, most people associate it with positive feelings and experiences. We must take care to not overly moralise the issue by imposing restrictions and prohibitions. Eating must not turn into a religion.

Noll: Our book is also not a vegan cookbook. We don't say you're allowed to do this, you're forbidden to do that. There are also recipes with meat. What this does: it simplifies the complexities and transposes them into cooking recipes. We make it easy by offering many different recipes.

Demrovski: What makes our book so special is that it alternates between being a cookbook and an educational book. That is something previously unheard of. We offer informative and easy-to-digest articles, and outstanding recipes, all in one book. This appeals to a wide range of interested readers.

 

What triggered you to write the first climate-friendly cookbook?

Demrovski: It was at an event on the topic of sustainable nutrition and cooking. That single-mindedly focused on the notion of organic produce, unfortunately to the exclusion of everything else. This fell short of our expectations and it is also the wrong approach. Organic produce is an important part, but it is only one of many aspects.

 

Which facts about the climate were new and surprising for you?

Demrovski: The notion of regional sourcing and the question of whether regional is always better. Regional sourcing should always be considered together with the seasonality aspect. This means that an apple from New Zealand may have a smaller CO2 footprint than the one I eat outside of the season, because it was stored in a chilled warehouse within the region. Furthermore, transport by truck leaves a smaller footprint than the heating of a greenhouse.

Noll: Something that is frequently left out of the equation is the fact that we have to make our way to the supermarket and back. This trip can be extremely emissions-intensive and account for up to 50% of emissions associated with food. When I buy organic produce, follow a vegetarian diet but then go shopping in a SUV, my trip to the supermarket has a greater impact on my carbon footprint than other factors.

 

What is your simple tip to help people integrate a climate-friendly diet in their daily lives?

Noll: Anyone who manages to adhere to one of the classic nutrition pyramids - which all tell us to eat lots of legumes and vegetables as the nutritional foundation, but not that much meat and so on - has already made a big step forward.

Demrovski: That's right, whether you are also a vegan or vegetarian is really only the icing on the cake, the extra mile that we may be willing to go, but a sensible and healthy diet by itself is already a significant contribution to the protection of our climate.

 


Recommended reading:“Das Klimakochbuch. Klimafreundlich einkaufen, kochen und genießen“ [The Climate-friendly Cookbook. Environmentally friendly shopping, cooking and culinary enjoyment], Kosmos Verlag, edition: 2 (5 November 2015)

Boris Demrovski

was at that time the press spokesman at the youth division of the environmental organisation BUND e.V. and today manages the campaigns area (consumer campaigns on the notion of climate protection) at nonprofit consultancy firm CO2 Online.

Christian Noll

was employed with the German environmental protection organisation Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND e. V.) at the time the first edition of the book was published He is a founding member and Executive Board Member of DENEFF, the initiative of German companies promoting energy efficiency.