An Energytarian in a Consumer’s World

In a recent twitter conversation, I was discussing with some vegetarian friends about their thoughts on eating insects, when tweets turned to the inevitable conversation about why we make the choices that we do regarding food consumption. This then lead to the rather fabulous phrase ‘energytarian’ (@RosalieTostevin take a bow) being coined to define somebody that eats meat but tries to do so in a sustainable manner, which got me thinking about what it really means to eat sustainably.

Coming soon to a supermarket near you? (Credit: Shan Lung)
Coming soon to a supermarket near you? (Credit: Shan Lung)

I like to consider myself as being a reasonably eco-conscious eater; I don’t buy eggs from caged hens, I buy fruit in season, I don’t eat whale (well, apart from that one time in Japan, but in my defence I thought I was eating duck). But I could probably be doing a lot better. To see how much better I could be doing let’s have a look at my food diary from last Monday (I feel as though I am preparing for an episode of Secret Eaters):

Breakfast: Protein shake with milk

Lunchtime:  Carrot and coriander soup

Dinner: Chicken curry followed by yoghurt for desert

According to this food emissions calculator, the carbon footprint of my food consumption was approximately 2.3 Kg carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e; the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide in terms of global warming potential). I should point out that I have taken into account the fact that lunch and dinner were both shared with my girlfriend, and also that I have not included the carbon footprint of the spices and protein supplement that I used in these meals. It is also worth noting that these calculations do not include packaging and cooking, and were done assuming that I am based in North America (I am not), but as a basic indicator of my carbon footprint it will suffice.

My eating habits seem to sit quite nicely between the ‘Average’ and ‘No Beef’ according to the detailed analysis of carbon foodprints that was carried out by ‘Shrink That Footprint’ (read more about it on this excellent blog post), which seems like a fair assessment. I try to avoid eating red meats more than three times a week if I can help it, but this is not a hard and fast rule.

My food diary saw me fall somewhere between ‘Average’ and ‘No Beef’; a position that oddly mirrors that of my physique.

There is at least one other major factor that we need to consider regarding eating sustainably, and that is the consumption of water. According to a recent report, it is estimated that it takes over 15 thousand  litres of water to produce 1 kg of beef; to put that into perspective many Africans have to survive on 20 litres of water per day.

Using tabulated values from a 2013 report published by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the chicken curry that I made used up almost 2,500 litres of water in ingredients alone, i.e. before taking into account the water that was used in the preparation and washing up. From this report, red meats would again appear to be a big no-no for any self-respecting energytarian; although chocolate lovers beware, 1 kg of the good stuff uses up over 17 thousand litres of water!

It would be tempting to say that all would-be energytarians should stick to a strictly vegan diet, although by ‘simply’ giving up beef you can reduce your carbon foodprint and food-based water consumption by over a third. Food for thought this summer as you boot up the BBQ.

By Sam Illingworth @samillingworth

2 thoughts on “An Energytarian in a Consumer’s World”

  1. There is a lot that the average person can do to modify his/her diet without exagerating, and yet easily manage by consuming less meat and that means less chlorestoral too. The aim should be to save water consumption, and many of the currently available vegetables can provide sufficient proteen and yet require less water to be grown. (Incidently the amount of water per kilo of beef in the above claim looks to me like a gross exageration.) The other problem with beef is the amount of CO2 produced by the animal itself, this green-house gas production being equivalent to that generated by the daily running of a small car!

    Unless one is living in a place where food is hard to get, try to avoid the starch-bearing cerials too, although some are probably unavoidable. This policy has enabled my obesse weight to drop by about 4 Kg in 3 months, too. No big deal but a small step in the right direction.

    • Thanks for your comment David,

      That all sounds like pretty sound advice, and these days I also find myself eating a lot less starch in my diet. The figures that I got for the water consumption of beef came from quite a reputable report (linked in the article), but I agree they are very large figures! Hopefully some people will realise this and start to think about their consumption habits. 🙂

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