Eating healthy to fix the planet

The world’s food system is thought to be responsible for approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, with animal agriculture responsible for 18%.

 A flexitarian diet involves eating more plant-based meals (photo credit: UNSPLASH)
A flexitarian diet involves eating more plant-based meals
(photo credit: UNSPLASH)

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (or COP26 as it is more commonly known) is being held in the first half of November in Glasgow. The event aims to bring together global leaders to accelerate action on tackling climate change.

To get myself into the spirit, I recently watched David Attenborough’s latest documentary, Breaking Boundaries: the Science of Our Planet, on Netflix. If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend it. Despite painting a terrifying picture of the carbon that’s already overheating our planet, and the environmental boundaries that the world is pushing to their limit, the documentary offers hope.

At the end, Attenborough suggests three simple, yet effective ways we can each do something significant to help fix our broken planet. First, he suggests planting trees to draw down the carbon from the atmosphere. He also suggests cutting waste to a minimum. (These will be the subjects of future columns in these pages.)

Today, I’d like to focus on the third solution, which is probably the easiest of the three – eating healthfully.The world’s food system is thought to be responsible for approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, with animal agriculture responsible for 18%. To put this into perspective, exhausts from transportation are responsible for 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Forests – the lungs of the earth - are cut down to create farmland, destroying natural habitats and biodiversity in the process, with methane from livestock contributing to the climate crisis. And by 2050, emissions from agriculture are expected to increase by 80%.

 Burned down trees following a major fire which broke out in a forest near Beit Meir, outside of Jerusalem yesterday. Firefighters are continuing to try to extinguish the fire. August 16, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Burned down trees following a major fire which broke out in a forest near Beit Meir, outside of Jerusalem yesterday. Firefighters are continuing to try to extinguish the fire. August 16, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The EAT-Lancet Commission, which looked into this issue, concluded that the best diet for our planet is plant-based. By literally eating your greens, we can each play a part in helping the environment. But you don’t have to give up burgers altogether. Scientists suggest that if people simply followed more “flexitarian” diets, this would have a huge planetary impact.

The idea is to reduce, not eliminate, consumption of animal products. A flexitarian diet involves eating more plant-based meals, incorporating more seasonal fruits and vegetables, pulses, beans and whole grains. The more this can be done, the greater the climate benefit.

And, according to scientists, not only could following flexitarian diets offer greater climate benefits, it could also bring biodiversity, land, water, nitrogen and phosphorous levels back within a safe operating space.So what is Israel doing to help people eat a more plant-based, flexitarian diet?

Tel Aviv is known to be the vegan capital of the world – with 17% of all Israelis being either vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian. Domino’s Pizza trialed its first-ever dairy-free pizza here. Adidas introduced its first-ever leather-free trainer in Israel. And Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture launched the world’s first course on producing alternative protein.

In the last quarter of 2020, consumption of meat and fish in Israel decreased 10%. And during lockdowns, “alternative proteins” enjoyed the highest levels of growth out of all food categories – growth that is thought to be world-leading.

Israel is also a global leader in alternative protein R&D, with innovations offering meat-like textures and flavors, without the carbon impact of meat. Redefine Meat, for instance, provides premium plant-based burgers, sausages, kebabs, pastry-wrapped cigars and ground “beef” for open-flame grilling.

For the true carnivores out there, there is also a real meat option, without the environmental footprint of regular meat: cell-based cultivated meat and poultry products.

Actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio has invested in the pioneering Aleph Farms – the first company to produce steak from cow cells rather than slaughtering animals. And fellow actor Ashton Kutcher invested in MeaTech, which is using 3D bioprinting and tissue engineering technologies to develop a sustainable  to industrialized animal farming.

There are also numerous alternative “milks” or real milk produced in a lab, without the carbon impact of dairy milk, such as BioMilk, ReMilk and Fantastic Farms. And researchers from Tel Aviv University are producing Imagindairy milk “from yeast, not beast.”

The growth of Israel’s food-tech scene can also be seen outside of Israel. Else Nutrition, an Israeli plant-based, non-soy, non-genetically modified formula for toddlers, for example, is being distributed in over 30,000 US retail outlets. Redefine Meat is expected to expand to Europe later in 2021, and Asia and the US in 2022. Aleph Farms has even produced cultivated meat on the International Space Station!

In fact, the internationally renowned Good Food Institute has opened an Israeli branch, to make use of Israeli plant-based and cultivated meat protein alternatives, to help transform the global food system.As scientist Johan Rockström, who collaborated with David Attenborough in the making of the documentary said, eating a healthy, flexitarian diet “might be the single most important way of contributing to save the planet.” In this regard, Israel is contributing significantly.

Salad anyone?

The writer is a TV news presenter and Middle East correspondent for India’s WION (World Is One). The author of Tikkun Olam: Israel vs COVID-19, she has helped numerous multinationals report on their contributions to tackling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.