3 Sustainable Food Habits to Start While You WFH: Is Meat Bad For the Planet?

Eugenia Liew
3 Sustainable Food Habits to Start While You WFH: Is Meat Bad For the Planet?
As many of us continue remote working (work from home, or WFH) amid the pandemic, it’s a better time than ever to press pause and have a think about how we can start having more sustainable habits at home – starting from our kitchen.
Was comfort food the ‘new normal’ for you over the past year? You’re not the only one. The Straits Times reported that Singaporeans took comfort in food as online searching and purchases of Milo, bubble tea, and dumplings all skyrocketed when Singapore’s circuit breaker kicked in last April. Breakfast food and fast food deliveries also went up by 50%, according to delivery app Deliveroo.
But what do these cravings for burgers and fried chicken, both top delivery items in 2020 according to Grab and Deliveroo, mean for the planet?

The Impact of Our Food on The Environment

A third of manmade global greenhouse gases come from food and food-related supply chain issues, including packaging, transportation, livestock and agriculture (including water usage, deforestation, and pesticide usage). Meat and dairy are responsible for approximately 14.5% of global emissions alone! That’s on par with emissions from road (including personal and commercial) transport.

Red Meats Like Beef and Mutton are the Least Sustainable

More specifically, the emissions resulting from the production of beef, mutton, and lamb dwarf other foods. Producing a kilogram of beef emits 60 kilograms of greenhouse gases – producing roughly seven times the emissions from producing poultry. For comparison, it would take driving 240 km in an average petrol car to emit 60kg of C02.
A study from Deloitte found that in Singapore, consumption of red meat accounts for only 11% of consumption per capita, but is responsible for 40% of total food-related greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a similar story for pork, which accounts for 6% of consumption per capita but is responsible for 28% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions. Eating a McDonalds cheeseburger, which emits roughly 4kg of CO2, once a week for one year is the carbon equivalent of driving 841 kilometres. You could complete the Straits Times cross country road trip a little over four times with the same carbon emissions of the weekly burger!

Why Are Some Meats Less Eco-Friendly Than Others?

But what’s behind the emission differences between meats? Carbon emissions from beef come from three areas: emissions from changes in land use, emissions from the farming practices themselves, and methane produced by cows (by far the largest group). While sustainability-focused farms can aim to offset the inherent emissions that come from raising cattle with conscientious farming practices and agroforestry (planting trees to create a net carbon sink,) whether beef farms can actually reach carbon neutrality is debatable.

3 Sustainable Food Habits to Start

‘High carbon’ options like beef burgers can sure be tempting. Here are three tips that will help you skip the burger and save on CO2 emissions to help leave a healthier planet for future generations:

Meatless Mondays: Commit To A Vegetarian Or A Vegan Day Once A Week

If Singapore replaced 50% of its beef with plant based ‘meat’ options this would reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 26%. And lucky for us, there are plenty of delicious vegan and vegetarian options across Singapore! If you’re looking to order and craving a burger, try a vegan replacement like nomVnom Bistro or VeganBurg to get your fix. You don’t have to rely on mock meat either for a satisfying meal. Noodles with veggies or fried rice are also great planet-friendly comfort food options.

Frozen Over Fresh: If You Must Buy Meat, Buy Frozen

Even small choices such as choosing frozen meat over chilled meat reduces emissions that come from air transportation, because frozen meat can be brought to Singapore via land or sea which produces less greenhouse gas emissions than chilled meat that must be imported by air because of its shorter shelf life. Air transport is nine times more carbon-intensive than land transport and roughly 50 times more carbon-intensive than sea transport.
Not to mention, frozen meats are often more affordable and just as (if not more) nutritious! Fresh meats have a higher chance of contamination and going bad, whereas if done correctly, frozen meats decay much slower and ‘lock in’ more the nutrients when frozen.

Made in Singapore: Buy As Local As Possible

What you buy at the supermarket makes a difference! Whenever you can, buying organic and locally raised meats and produce makes a difference when it comes to emissions. Singapore imports 90% of its food so picking items from countries that are nearby and use clean energy sources can also cut down on transportation emissions.
For example, the emissions from flying in ‘chilled pork’ from Brazil are three times that of the ‘chilled pork’ from Australia due to the distance cargo planes must travel. Keeping your diet rich in local (or as local as possible) vegetables and fruits is healthy for you and for the planet!
sustainable eating, couple in the kitchen

Sustainable Living Begins at Home

Planet friendly shopping choices and delivery can make a huge difference in your carbon footprint! And these lifestyle changes don’t have to be very drastic or inconvenience you either. By swapping out beef or pork once a week, picking frozen pork instead of chilled pork at the supermarket and snacking on local fruit, you can take tangible climate action.
Looking to track your new changes? Try out the ‘food’ setting on the Capture app and you can see the difference a day of vegetarian meals make on your carbon footprint and for the planet.
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This article was contributed by Capture. Capture is a free app that helps you to track and reduce CO2 emissions from everyday life! Capture was co-founded in Singapore in 2019, with a mission to make planet-friendly living possible for all. Check out the free tool via Google Play or the AppStore, or click here to find out more.
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