Faith and your dinner plate

Diet change can help mitigate climate change

By Andrew Kang Bartlett | Presbyterians Today

Our planet can no longer tolerate our Western lifestyle, which includes widespread meat production and meat eating.

Choosing a protein for a meal is no easy task. Can you afford it? Is it good for you? If you have kids, will they eat it? Then there are the less common and more challenging questions: Was the earth harmed? Were the workers treated well? Did the animal suffer? And how is our protein consumption contributing to carbon emissions and climate change?

Scientists say that global carbon emissions must fall to avoid severe global warming. Ways to reduce carbon emissions range from having fewer children to cutting back on car usage and airplane trips. But perhaps a good first step is moving toward a more plant-based diet as a way to reduce our ecological footprint.

The Bible offers precise, not always savory or practical, guidelines in Leviticus 11. Yet, in the face of climate chaos and widespread ecosystem destruction, Leviticus may have been prescient in endorsing the eating of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers. Certain cultures have been eating them for centuries, and insects are now growing in culinary popularity not only for their taste, but also for their tiny ecological footprint.

Beyond Leviticus, the Bible’s advice around the question of earth stewardship is less precise, and we must factor in our current situation. The world has about 7.5 billion people, soon to be 9 or 10 billion, who — apart from vegans and vegetarians — enjoy eating meat, increasingly so as incomes permit.

But the planet can no longer tolerate our Western lifestyle, which includes widespread meat production and meat eating.

Each year, scientists calculate Earth Overshoot Day, which is the day of the year that humanity’s resource consumption exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources that year. Earth Overshoot Day in 2018 was Aug. 1, the earliest ever.

Already, the consequences of our ecological overshoot are being felt by hundreds of millions of people who suffer from poisoned air and water, hunger and impoverishment and who need extra time and labor to access basic resources. On top of this, despoiled ecosystems and species extinction have caused massive losses of fauna and flora.

While we are not — yet — obliged to acquire a taste for grasshoppers or to swear off all meat, there is a simple way to move forward. Eat less meat, especially beef, pork and lamb.

Consider that producing 1 pound of beef requires 1,799 gallons of water, according to National Geographic. And to further reduce your carbon footprint, eat less dairy.

(As Presbyterians, we have always stood behind family farmers, so we make this recommendation with reluctance.)

The impact, though, of eating less meat and dairy is great, because currently the global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined.

Growing crops, especially when using synthetic fertilizers, produces large amounts of CO2 emissions. On top of this, feed eaten by animals does not translate directly into food calories.

Therefore, while 80 percent of all farmland is used for livestock, this produces only 18 percent of the food calories we eventually eat. Translating that into lunch, a third-pound burger on average produces nearly 9 pounds of greenhouse gases.

When you do eat meat and dairy, opt for meat and dairy from animals that have been raised on what ruminants were born to feed on — grass. By eating more plant-based proteins, such as rice, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, millet, corn and quinoa, which are generally less expensive than meat, you can better afford sustainably raised meat and dairy as well.

As a connectional church, we can inspire one another to choose behaviors that jibe with our beliefs in the sacredness of life and God’s creation.

As Psalm 24:1 proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it.” We are called to be stewards of the earth, and this caring is reflected on our dinner plates.

Andrew Kang Bartlett is the associate for national hunger concerns for the Presbyterian Hunger Program.


Learn more

Consider trying out the Just Eating: Practicing Our Faith at the Table curriculum in your church. For more information, visit the Food & Faith blog at pcusa.org/food

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