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Food and Sustainable Living

Taken from the top-rated book:

Spend Green and Save the World
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Chapter 5: Food

Hopefully, by now, you’ve been implementing some of the suggestions in this book to decrease your footprint. If so, you’ve probably begun to get to grips with the CC22, or how some of our less desirable traits that derive from our primitive brain have been compounded by capitalism – and this has created the mess we’re in.

Our primitive or primal traits are not necessarily ‘bad’. After all, they evolved for various reasons. But as some of those reasons aren’t really applicable in the modern world, it’s worth considering whether they’re doing us more harm than good. We tend to dismiss our primal traits as ‘human nature’, but that’s not really the case. Human nature – by definition – is what makes us human, and these characteristics are not that. What makes us human is higher, analytical thinking, but as the system doesn’t encourage us to check in with our true selves, we have to mindfully take the initiative.

We’ve already talked about how the ethos of capitalism encourages our greedy, selfish side. And, in chapter 3, we talked about how incessant advertising preys on our insecurities because of the system’s reliance on growth and consumption. But advertising also creates ‘social norms’, or widely accepted viewpoints and behaviours. This is thanks to its continual reinforcement of messages coming at us from every angle, AKA brainwashing. And, once we’ve made our minds up about something, we have another pesky trait that has a lot to answer for. It’s called cognitive dissonance, and it plays a part in prolonging and exacerbating our problems.

Cognitive dissonance – we can be sure we’re stubborn

Cognitive dissonance is the battle that goes on in our heads when we’ve formed a viewpoint and some new information comes along that contradicts it. This new information makes us feel uncomfortable because it undermines our current beliefs, and the way we live our lives based on them. So, initially, we’ll scoff at the new information and reject it, no matter how rational it may be. After hearing it several times, it may begin to take hold, but it will make us feel very uncomfortable so we’ll bury it or continually justify our original viewpoint against it. If we’re open-minded and the new information seems valid then, eventually, we’ll face it and change our minds and mould new values or beliefs.

Our stubbornness with our views can be helpful to us; otherwise we’d be constantly changing our minds at the drop of a hat which would make it near impossible to make any decisions. Left unchecked, though, our unwillingness to consider new possibilities in a world where we’re constantly spoon-fed what we should eat in the name of profit is dangerous to our wellbeing, which of course includes the state of our natural home.

We are bombarded with adverts every day, telling us how healthy, delicious, and good it is to eat animal products. Advertising preys on our emotions with slogans like “Kill a cow, Start a fire, The magic begins”, “You just can’t beat this meat”, and “Eat like a man” on meat adverts. Objectively speaking, of course, it’s not true that eating meat makes someone ‘manly’. Unless you’re Bear Grylls, meat is picked up pre-slaughtered and pre-packaged from the supermarket shelf just like everything else we eat.

Years of media manipulation means that eating meat and animal products in large quantities, as part of a normal “healthy” lifestyle, is now part of our accepted worldview. Luckily, with scientific information emerging that indicates otherwise, this view is changing.

On mainstream news nowadays, we often hear that eating a lot of meat significantly impacts climate change and other aspects of the environment. As well as that, it has a detrimental effect on our health, and can cause suffering through the mistreatment of animals. If someone asked you whether you’re ok with being part of the climate change problem, damaging your own health, and mistreating animals, I’m pretty confident the answer would be no!

But cognitive dissonance is a powerful blocker in our minds. So much so that even when we discover the burgers we’re munching are marred with misery, rather than accept and apply that information to our behaviour, we’ll do whatever we can to minimise, ignore, and dispute it. It’s much easier to live with our heads in the sand than grapple with inconvenient changes; even when our current lifestyle choices go against our values!

Animal foods and health

Unfortunately, across the board, the scientific evidence on how diet relates to health is fractured and confusing. This means that all the information we hear or read can send our brains into a spin. When this happens, we end up sticking to our original viewpoint that has been ingrained in us, in part so we don’t drive ourselves completely mad.

Having said that, I’ll do my best to break down some key points in terms of animal foods and health objectively, to help us make those diets more digestible – figuratively, at least.

1. Many studies prove that animal foods contain nutrients and protein, which are beneficial for health.

2. Studies on diets high in animal foods have shown adverse effects on health. The World Health Organisation, for example, states that eating processed meat increases your risk of bowel cancer. Cancer Research UK, likewise, has shown that 21% of bowel cancers and 3% off all cancers in the UK are caused by eating processed or red meat.[i]

3. The vast majority of studies and scientists agree that the public should include more plant-based foods, and less animal foods in their diet, to improve health and reduce the risk of disease.

4. All the nutrients and protein we need can be obtained from a balanced plant-based diet.

On this fourth point, the book “The China Study” details how early scientists have entrenched a cultural bias towards an extremely high protein diet, even though “There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.”[ii] The only exception is vitamin B12, which we no longer get from soil that’s been depleted by the use of herbicides and pesticides (so someone on a plant-based diet may want to take a B12 supplement).

Food and health is such a complex subject and, for me, I find that reverting to common sense can help me make decisions when the evidence seems to be conflicting. In regards to our current high meat and dairy diet, it just seems logical to me that the modern diet must be far removed from what our ancestors would have eaten (before the meat and dairy industries became big business and were marketed to people constantly). In turn, I reflect on how it makes me feel when I eat a meal laden with meat and/or dairy, e.g., heavy, bloated, lethargic, and uncomfortable at best.

Personally, I had to give up red meat because my body couldn’t handle it anymore. Just like you would cut out gluten if your body couldn’t tolerate it; it wasn’t worth the uncomfortable feeling it gave me physically, or in the case of meat – ethically as well.

Animal foods and cruelty

Although the link between eating animal foods and bad health feels blurred to many people, the link to animal cruelty is less so. We all know that, on the whole, animals bred for meat are not treated nicely and come to an untimely gruesome end. The sheer amount that we consume has made sure of that. Every one and a half years, more animals are slaughtered than the total number of humans who ever lived.[iii]

It may be less obvious that animals bred for dairy are ill-treated but again, the amount of dairy products that are waved under our noses constantly has got us all hooked, and the demand can only be met through intensive farming. Any images supplied by marketers of happy cows enjoying life frolicking in fields, or tags like ‘farm fresh’ that imply animals live in disease-free conditions, are not even close to reality. The dairy cows that are able to roam outside still suffer from brutal systematic artificial insemination, and the immense emotional trauma of their new-born calf being taken away at birth, with the males often being shot. 95,000 dairy calves are shot in the UK every year.[iv]

Eating eggs is no exception to cruelty either, regardless of whether you buy free-range. The male chicks do not grow fast enough to be kept alive for food, so they are killed when they are a few hours old.

A hard-hitting e-talk by Compassion in World Farming reveals that the secret weapon in food marketing is wilful ignorance by the consumer. This is another way of saying that cognitive dissonance may make us feel uncomfortable about eating animal products, but we ignore or suppress that feeling so we can carry on as we are. [v]

Cognitive dissonance and the CC22

Aristotle – the father of Western Philosophy – documented the conundrum of cognitive dissonance all the way back in c.340 BC. He talked about what happens when you see a sweet and want to eat it because it’s tasty, but the rational part of you thinks about the consequences of eating the sweet and gaining weight. Adding appetite or desire to the equation overrules rational thinking.[vi]

This observation has now been backed up by the neuroscience of what happens in the brain. Various parts of the brain are at play during cognitive dissonance. Parts of the prefrontal cortex – or the higher thinking, analytical brain – are trying to rationalise matters, but the medial frontal cortex (controlling survival instincts) and the amygdala (controlling emotions) can easily overpower things.[vii]

Our rational brains are continually trying to bring the ethical and health implications of consuming animal products to the forefront of our thoughts. This is because these things matter much more than being told to think that greasy, ill-treated, hormone-laden chicken is ‘too good to resist’.

But, as we have already covered, we know that the higher thinking mind is already suppressed due to the way capitalism operates. Then, add in the fact that we have this trait to reject or suppress new information (and that the primal brain overpowers the higher brain), and it’s not at all surprising that we’re still scoffing down sausages.

Eating animal foods and climate change

Of course, health and the potential mistreatment of animals are not the only areas of our wellbeing affected by eating animal products. It is now widely recognised and reported that our obsession with animal-based foods is a major factor aggravating climate change.

In all, direct and indirect emissions from livestock account for around 15 percent of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions globally. 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. And a gigatonne is as big as it sounds. 1 gigatonne is 1,000,000,000 tonnes. [viii] [ix]

Making up 84 percent of this massive total is emissions from the methane released when animals digest food. And, the huge swathes of forest that are cleared to grow crops to feed the animals. As well as emissions from processing and producing their food.

(Manure storage and processing accounts for 10 percent. The remainder is due to processing and transporting animal products.)

Those who believe that changing our diets to be predominantly plant-based would have a similar impact on deforestation, should take into account that almost half the current global crop production goes to feeding livestock, and – on average – just 15 percent of these calories are then passed on to humans when we consume meat.[x]

Perhaps not surprisingly, considering the deforestation just mentioned, livestock agriculture is also one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity. And meat is considered one of the prime factors contributing to the current sixth mass extinction.[xi]

In the UK, the impact of animal agriculture on our forests may be less obvious as they were cleared centuries ago. But the impact of animal agriculture on air pollution and our health is clear. A range of pollutant gasses and particulate matter is emitted into the atmosphere from fertilizer use, farm machinery, livestock waste, and livestock housing. But the main contributor is emissions of ammonia. And this has “effects on human health, increasing mortality and morbidity throughout the UK.”[xii] Also, scientists estimate that halving agricultural emissions globally could reduce the mortality attributed to the air pollution they cause by 250,000, and by 52,000 across Europe.[xiii]

A positive climate tipping point

If you’re reading this book, you may well be someone who lies in-between the two extremes of a high meat diet and a plant-based one. If so, you may well be experiencing cognitive dissonance as you grapple every day with your true values and our social norms. In that sense, the climate issue may be the tipping point your willpower needs. Your rational health and ethical concerns may not have been enough in the past to overpower the primal parts of the brain. Especially when clever marketing and ease of access to animal products have manipulated it. Climate can be the part that tips the scales towards rational thinking.

“Becoming aware of the effect of cognitive dissonance on our decisions and understanding how we can overcome it can help us make better decisions and help us make positive behaviour changes rather than continue lying to ourselves.”[xiv]

Now we know why we find it so hard to stop eating animal products, we can use our awareness to our advantage. Certainly for me, getting into the habit of considering how the CC22 affects my behaviour has helped create the mindshift I’ve needed. Now I find it much easier to make conscious choices about what I eat. These choices help prevent climate change and help me live closer in line with my values.

Solutions: the size of the footprint prize

Having a diet high in meat, which is normal in the developed world, produces around two tonnes more CO2 than being vegan. That is a massive chunk of the average person’s footprint. Go to footprintcalculator.org to take a fairly comprehensive dive into your personal diet and get a good idea which foods you eat are increasing your footprint.

The solutions that follow will suggest some of the ways you can reduce this whilst feeling that you’re making positive, easily-achievable lifestyle changes.

Before we explore those, it’s worth knowing that the intensity of emissions per kg produced is higher for dairy products like sheep and goat’s milk than for meat products like pork and chicken. So, as individuals, we should be aware that products like Halloumi and Feta cheese are worse for our footprint than some meats. Not beef though; that’s the worst on all counts. [xv]

Plant the seeds of progress

We’ve established that the more we swap animal foods for plant foods, the more carbon we save from the atmosphere. The main solution that’s going to help us reach our 3-tonne CO2 goal is the bread and peanut butter of Lean/Agile – Continuous (or iterative) Improvement. It can make the transition towards a plant-based diet a breeze.

I can speak from personal experience here, as I used to be a high meat eater. I’d eat meat twice a day normally, sometimes more. I was brought up in a household like many others, where eating meat was completely the norm. The issue of cognitive dissonance is also one that is very familiar to me. I remember – when I was young – scoffing at the notion of being precious about where meat comes from, or how it’s produced, or the impact it has on animals’ lives, despite considering myself to be an avid animal and nature lover. Lamb was one of my favourite dishes but – like pretty much all meat-eaters – I was completely detached. If I ever actually witnessed a lamb going to the slaughter, I would’ve been devastated.

That’s why I can be so confident that this approach feels not only easy as you’re doing it, but totally satisfying as well. I am not 100% plant-based yet, and I’m not sure if I will be, but I used to think that it would be virtually impossible for me to get to where I am today. As I’m writing this, I eat chicken about once a week (normally free-range from a local butcher), a (carefully sourced) egg or two a week, and perhaps a portion of dairy.

Even though my carbon footprint for my current diet is low, I’m continuing to decrease my intake, and I expect I will keep going until I’m vegan.

When applying continuous improvement, changes can snowball quickly. You may find that you naturally have more conversations and read things that keep you motivated. And you’ll get ideas that make each step easier. New recipes, for example, or conversations about plant-based products and where to get them.

The footprint goal also gives you focus. You know the best thing you can do to remove emissions associated with diet is to move towards a plant-based one. So you can prioritise doing this above sourcing unpackaged or local food, for example. And, because it’s one step at a time, you don’t need to feel stressed thinking that you have to give up all the things you like, or that you need to learn to cook first, or figure out everything about nutrition and protein and get overwhelmed before you even start.

In fact, if you enjoy meat and dairy, I would recommend that you don’t begin by thinking that you’re going to give them up completely. Just think about cutting them down gradually to a point that’s healthier for you and the natural world. You may find that, like me, the progression feels completely natural and you’ll want to keep going… but you might not. It’s a case of whatever you’re happy with when it comes to that point.

For me, personally, cutting down on meat came first, probably in equal parts for climate, health, and ethical reasons. As my awareness and subsequent interest grew, I found it easier and easier to choose something vegetarian to eat, and when I felt the benefit physically – and with my overall wellbeing and peace of mind – it was a seamless transition to make those decisions more frequently. Going from eating red meat most days to rarely took about three years and then, a few months later, I was ready to give it up completely without it feeling like a sacrifice. That was over a year ago, and there’s been a couple of occasions when I’ve felt tempted to have it. Reminding myself why I’m not eating red meat has helped a lot. On Christmas day 2019, I gave in to temptation and had a small piece which only served to remind me that it’s not worth it.

With dairy and eggs, I’m amazed that I’ve got to a point where I rarely have them without feeling like I’m depriving myself. The way that I’ve achieved my dairy reduction is mainly by making swaps. Yoghurt for soy substitute; milk chocolate for dark; fake cheese, etc. Because it’s been bit by bit and something that I’ve wanted to do for positive reasons, it has felt effortless. Now I can also focus on replacing the processed, packaged, and non-local foods with local wholefood without it seeming like a chore (more on this in chapter 8: ‘Localisation’, in the section on ‘Local food’).

How you decide to use the techniques to move towards a plant-based diet will, of course, depend on you. Maybe you love cooking and are looking forward to experimenting with some vegan dishes at home, or maybe you’ll first swap out a weekly beef burger for a vegan one (these days there are some genuinely tasty ones). Either way, I hope you feel motivated enough to take some initial steps, or to keep going if you’re already on the path.

(See the Appendix: ‘Continuous Improvement’ for more on using the approach.)

Origins

You can make a big difference when you’re careful about where the animal foods that you buy come from. Some countries, particularly in Latin America, are even developing low-carbon livestock production. This will achieve emission reductions at scale, including reduced emission intensity, soil carbon and pasture restoration, and better recycling of by-products and waste.

“The world needs both consumers that are aware of their food choices and producers and companies that engage in low carbon development.”[xvi]

With our food choices, we need to literally put our money where our mouth is. If you want to buy meat, but are on-board with buying less often, then this gives you greater means to be selective. If you haven’t already, start to research and consider your local farms. And do a little research on their farming practices so you can back the ones that consider their impact on climate.

Food waste

In order to reduce our footprint enough to prevent catastrophic warming, we must tackle the topic of food waste. Seventy percent of people in the UK believe they have no food waste (wrap.org.uk), but sadly this is far from the case. In the UK, we throw away seven million tonnes a year (1.3 billion tonnes globally)[xvii], which costs the average UK household £840, or £70 a month… that’s more than your average utility bill. Perhaps even more shockingly, five million tonnes out of the seven million tonnes of what we chuck in the UK is edible.[xviii]

Other wealthy countries fair even worse, but in all of them the percentage of household food waste sits between 30 and 40 percent and is the biggest cause of food waste from farm to plate. Apart from throwing money in the bin, this is a huge climate change-causing issue. Not just from the greenhouse gasses released as the food decomposes but because of the production, transportation, and storage of food that never gets eaten. Food waste has a huge carbon footprint of 4.4 billion tons of carbon equivalent, which is over 8 percent of total global emissions, and food thrown away at home is a massive chunk of that total.[xix] [xx]

The footprint calculator we’re using doesn’t currently take food waste into account, so it assumes zero food waste. That means that you would need to add any wasted food to your carbon footprint reading at footptintcalculator.org, to give you a more realistic total. I’ve used a different carbon footprint calculator (https://mossy.earth/pages/carbon-calculator) to give us an idea that the average person will release about a tonne of CO2 from food waste alone. Reassuringly, though, there are a tonne of solutions to cut this down that are an easy way to save money as well as carbon, and they satisfy more than just our appetite.

Solutions: Lean away from waste

In chapter 4, we explored the Lean concept of ‘flow’ which means preventing things becoming piled up and causing disruption and waste. Unfortunately, this is counter-intuitive to how we normally think, and as with many things, conventional thought is causing us problems. We are taught, or for some reason believe, that stocking up on things or doing things all in one go is beneficial and time-saving.

A great example of this is the way we food shop. We’ll go to the supermarket as little as possible and stock up on things we think we might use. Then we fill up our cupboards and fridges with the stuff, which until we do use them is wasted time, money, and energy.

It’s tempting to buy everything you think you need for the foreseeable future at once because it seems like the most efficient way to do it. The trouble is, it actually means that more mistakes are made, and food has to be paid for and stored without knowing if it will be consumed.

When you get home after an exhaustive shopping trip and unpack, you have a fridge and cupboards full of food. This feels great, until it starts rotting and you have to chuck it because what you thought you might eat in a few days’ time, you never actually fancy. Or, your fridge is so full, you forget things are there. You then end up getting takeaways or extra food instead, which costs even more money.

Shop smart: buy little and often

This traditional way of shopping was nagging at me for ages as each time I threw away food, I got a little tug in my tummy from all the waste. After I began to take notice, it became so obvious that buying food in advance wasn’t working; it felt pretty natural to do it less and less.

I find that as long as I have a few staples that I can use to knock up a meal, then everything else can be bought every couple of days as needed. Now I buy what I want when I want it, and because the fridge isn’t rammed full, I can see what I’ve got. This means I can plan anything going out of date into the next couple of meals. It also means that I rarely throw anything edible away now.

Shopping little and often is also much quicker than traipsing around the supermarket for hours trying to imagine or plan what you’ll be eating in six days’ time, and there’s next to no chance of forgetting anything or making mistakes. This means the whole experience is comparatively stress-free. On the occasions that I do bigger shops now, I only buy a small amount of fresh food and just buy the things I know will be eaten between shops. Also, I don’t do a big shop while there are edible meals in the house. What is left is eaten first, and if there’s a small number of ingredients needed to top up a meal, they’re bought as required.

Storing isn’t boring

Another thing that has a big impact on food waste at home is storing it correctly. I’ve become a dab hand at this now, and it’s a huge help to stop scrapping leftovers. As soon as anything is opened, store it in the fridge (making sure your fridge is below 5° Centigrade) in an airtight container. I use the plastic containers that sometimes come with takeaways. These are perfect as they are reusable (as long as they have a number five in the triangle which all the ones I’ve seen do), airtight, and they are see-through. This means that as well as keeping food for longer, you can see what you have to use up. And, when you open the fridge, a quick glance tells you what ingredients you have to get creative with for dinner.

If you think you’ve got more than you need, then don’t forget about the freezer. Go to lovefoodhatewaste.com and check out the storage A-Z which tells you exactly what you can freeze and how to do it to keep the flavour.[xxi]

Get creative

If there are a few random things leftover in your fridge or cupboards to eat, get creative with them before you buy something new. Practically anything goes on top of toast or in a sandwich, and you might surprise yourself with a new favourite creation. I’ve recently got into making a kind of potato salad with leftovers which is basically a mish-mash of potatoes and whatever else I can find, with some olive oil and seasoning or some pesto. And they’ve all been really tasty!

Plan meals

Simply put, just have a little think ahead. Be conscious of the type of food you’re throwing away and either don’t buy it again, buy less of it, or plan it all into meals. Do you really need a bumper bag of potatoes? Or do half of them normally end up being chucked? Can you make use of them all next time? If not, stop. If you’re opening a jar of pasta sauce but won’t use it all that day, then plan when you next will use it to avoid forgetting about it until it’s gone bad.

Veg boxes

A great way to eat more plant-based foods is to order a veggie box from somewhere that provides local produce with recipes that make use of it all. This has to be the most sustainable way towards a low carbon, ethical diet… as long as you plan the meals so that everything gets used.

Eating out

A simple tip to avoid wasting food when you eat out is to take your own Tupperware to make a doggie bag. The chef will love that you liked their dish so much you wanted to take leftovers home rather than waste them. Worst case scenario, you could actually feed them to your dog!

For a nice aftertaste

Go to lovefoodhatewaste.com for even more information and ideas on how to make sure edible food fulfils its purpose. It has recipes for what you can do with leftovers and other handy tips like an A-Z of storage advice and a portion calculator. Also, take a look at the Appendix section: ‘Other Lean ‘tricks’ – ‘How to’ with less fuss and no muss’ in the section titled ‘The 5S System’. Here you’ll find tips that will help make your personal food factory shipshape.

See the Recycling chapter for more, but for anything that isn’t edible and the small amount of waste that happens because of life, don’t let food end up in landfill – use food recycling or compost instead.

Tough choices today or tougher choices tomorrow? [breakout box]

Albert Einstein once said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking which caused them.”

Take farming cows, for example – a huge cause of greenhouse gas emissions. In a TV interview, author David Wallace-Wells spoke about a possible solution. It’s been discovered that adding a small amount of seaweed to the cows’ food could reduce methane production from the cows by up to 99 percent. He suggested that if this becomes a policy enforced by governments, the issue of cow farming in regards to climate change could be resolved.

I can see the appeal of this kind of solution; it basically means that everyone can carry on as they are, no scary change needed. Just pass the buck to governments and carry on chowing down on burgers. The trouble is that this kind of solution hasn’t come from understanding the root cause of the problem. If we begin to address the root cause – the CC22 – it will give us the opportunity to use our higher thinking brains. This means the solutions will address the real problem and create lasting positive change that increases our wellbeing. But, with solutions that rely solely on policy change, the public will continue to eat beef and dairy in the amounts we do now, causing the following:

> Deforestation.

> Desertification.

> Overuse/mismanagement of resources needed elsewhere, such as water.

> Human health issues.

> Mistreatment of animals from mass production.

Therefore, we would completely miss the point.

I want to reiterate here that I advocate policy change. It has to happen, and if you’re so inclined, then absolutely go out and protest. Be an activist and write to your MP, and anything else you can do to drive policy change. But, if you do all that without considering how you live your own life, then surely you don’t appreciate how destructive we are all being to our planet? The CC22 root cause demonstrates that it’s the capitalist system and the lesser traits of our psyche that have caused climate change.Political change alone will not resolve the climate issue. In order to affect the outcome of climate change, we must also look at ourselves.

As individuals, the continuous improvement approach will make changes seem easy. And it will also give the livestock industry a chance to adapt to consumer demand which will lessen unwanted effects such as job losses.

That said, for the amount of change required in our diets to prevent catastrophic climate change, people’s lives will be impacted. In the livestock industry, businesses will have to adapt quickly to either:

> Be part of the sustainable livestock sector, and cater for the remaining animal foods demand.

> Move to plant agriculture to meet the growing demand.

> Change sector altogether.

In my opinion, this is where we do need the government to be the driver. We will need them to back the transition from meat to plant-based diets with subsidies and whatever training and support livestock sector businesses and workers need. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of doing this properly to stimulate change and avoid negative impacts.

There are people who argue that the loss of jobs in livestock agriculture, and subsequent impacts on the economy are reasons not to move away from animal agriculture.[xxii] These people need to consider the overall devastating effects on society if we don’t. Firstly, that “climate change is one of the biggest threats to economic stability.”[xxiii] But also that things go way beyond job losses (if not managed effectively by government) in one sector. Climate change will negatively affect the quality of life for the entire human species.

Carrying on as we are will mean everyone on the planet will ultimately suffer, starting (as it already has) with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. The heatwaves, droughts, and floods – even in the UK – will be responsible for taking innumerable lives and causing extreme suffering. On just one day in the UK in 2019, which was a record-breaking 38.7° Centigrade, more than 200 additional people died according to the Office for National Statistics.[xxiv]

And things are going to get much worse. In 50 years’ time, “For the EU-27 Member States, the PESETA study projected almost 86,000 net extra deaths per year in 2071-2100, compared with the 1961-1990 EU-25 average, for a high emissions scenario (IPCC SRES A2) with a global mean temperature increase of 3oC.”[xxv]

It might seem somewhat abstract to quote these statistics, so I think it’s worth picturing yourself at 70 or 80, whether that be in 20 or 50 years’ time, and imagine how unpleasant it will be to suffer at the hands of extreme temperatures, which will then be the norm. Imagine not just the suffering caused by the temperature, but also by the knock-on effects of scarcity of water and a health service under vastly more pressure than today (the Covid-19 situation has given us a little taste of what this feels like). This is the best-case scenario we’re being given if we don’t do something about it now.

It would be amazing if all the evidence about climate change is wrong. I want my son and younger loved ones to grow up in a world that isn’t facing this civilisation-ending threat, where they get to enjoy the same natural wonders that I did.

But I cannot, and we should not, ignore what the mountain of evidence is telling us. To suggest that we shouldn’t move away from eating meat regularly on the tiniest chance that the effects of climate change are being overstated, because there will be some job losses incurred, seems mind-boggling. If you sit in this camp, then be open to the idea that cognitive dissonance may be clouding your better judgement.

In regards to what we eat, I believe that tragically, we are collectively in danger of letting our stubbornness be the cause of immense global suffering. Because we’re resisting the logical and more ethical things to do.

Key takeaways from this chapter

> Cognitive dissonance is our stubbornness to accept a viewpoint that doesn’t match our existing one.

> This happens even though our existing view may be a result of cultural conditioning – like adverts reinforcing the message to buy animal products – rather than the values we hold dear when we’re accessing our higher, human brains (like our health, the welfare of animals, and the effect of our actions on the environment).

> Emissions from livestock account for 15 percent of global GHGs. But understanding our obsession with animal products gives us the power to break out of our bad habits and unhelpful mindsets to think and act differently.

> This can help us cut down on animal products, bit by bit, and save as much as 2 tonnes of CO2e per year.

> You can also save around a tonne of CO2e by making sure the food you buy gets eaten rather than thrown away. Use Lean Thinking to buy food as you need it, and make good use of what you have.

> We can apply our understanding of cognitive dissonance to the future of the food industry as a whole, and try to be open-minded about the vision of where it needs to go.

> We can accept that although there will be challenges that we’ll need to overcome, we must move away from animal agriculture and towards a diet that increases our health, respects the Earth’s creatures, and keeps us within the limits of climate safety.


[i] How much of a cancer risk is processed meat? BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/articles/processed_meat_danger

[ii] The China Study by Colin Campbell; pages 231-232

[iii] Feeding the future: Fixing the world’s faulty food system. The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/feeding-the-future/

[iv] Cows. Compassion in World Farming. https://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/cows/

[v] The Secrets of Food Marketing. Kate Cooper. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKTORFmMycQ

[vi] Cognitive Dissonance, Willpower, and Your Brain. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/what-would-aristotle-do/201809/cognitive-dissonance-willpower-and-your-brain

[vii] Cognitive Dissonance, Willpower, and Your Brain. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/what-would-aristotle-do/201809/cognitive-dissonance-willpower-and-your-brain

What Happens to the Brain During Cognitive Dissonance? Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-happens-to-the-brain-during-cognitive-dissonance1/

[viii] Key facts and findings. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/

[ix] This compares to the direct emissions from transport, i.e., the emissions released directly from transport but not emissions produced during production or disposal of vehicles.

[x] Feeding the future: Fixing the world’s faulty food system. The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/feeding-the-future/

[xi] Livestock’s Long Shadow: environmental issues and options. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/3/a0701e/a0701e.pdf

[xii] Air Pollution from Agriculture.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/assets/documents/reports/aqeg/2800829_Agricultural_emissions_vfinal2.pdf

[xiii] Air Pollution from Agriculture.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/assets/documents/reports/aqeg/2800829_Agricultural_emissions_vfinal2.pdf

[xiv] Understanding Cognitive Dissonance (and Why it Occurs in Most People). Cleverism. https://www.cleverism.com/understanding-cognitive-dissonance-and-why-it-occurs-in-most-people/

[xv] Beef = almost 300 kg CO2-eq per kilogram of protein produced, meat and milk from small ruminants = 165 and 112kg CO2-eq.kg respectively. Cow milk, chicken products and pork = below 100 CO2-eq/kg. From country to country, within each commodity type there is very high variability in emission intensities due to the different practices/inputs to production used. Key facts and findings. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/

[xvi] Cars or livestock: which contribute more to climate change? Thomson Reuters Foundation News. http://news.trust.org/item/20180918083629-d2wf0

[xvii] How Much Food Do We Waste? Probably More Than You Think. The New York Times. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/12/climate/food-waste-emissions.html

[xviii] Why Save Food? Love Food Hate Waste. https://lovefoodhatewaste.com/why-save-food

[xix] Food wastage footprint & Climate Change. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/3/a-bb144e.pdf

[xx] Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Food Loss and Waste Approach the Levels from Road Transport. World Resources Institute. https://wriorg.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/uploads/FLW_graphic1.jpg

[xxi] A-Z of Food Storage. Love Food Hate Waste. https://lovefoodhatewaste.com/article/food-storage-a-z

[xxii] All These Jobs Would Be Lost If the UK Went Completely Vegan. Vice. https://www.vice.com/en/article/59dpdk/all-these-jobs-would-be-lost-if-the-uk-went-completely-vegan

[xxiii] How is climate change affecting the economy and society? Iberdrola. https://www.iberdrola.com/environment/impacts-of-climate-change

[xxiv] UK’s hottest recorded day ‘caused deaths of extra 200 people’. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/11/uks-hottest-recorded-day-caused-deaths-of-extra-200-people

[xxv] Heat and health. European Environment Agency. https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/heat-and-health/heat-and-health-assessment-published