There is no one-size-fits-all diet to reduce people’s water and carbon footprints, details a new Johns Hopkins University-led study. Cutting down on meat and dairy makes sense for many eaters in high-income countries, while greater intake of meat, dairy and eggs in low-income countries is advisable on nutritional grounds.
The study notes:
These findings suggest populations could do far more to reduce their climate impact by eating mostly plants with a modest amount of low-impact meat than by eliminating meat entirely and replacing a large share of the meat’s protein and calories with dairy.
The robust study used nine different plant-centered diets to gauge the water and climate change impacts of each in 140 countries. In addition to the environmental measures, the authors reviewed how the shifts of the nine diets might impact nutrition.
Nutritional needs neutralize the single-bullet approach to diets, which co-author, Keeve Nachman, addresses by saying that,
“So many countries are dealing with under-nourishment. They’re going to have to increase food consumption, and accordingly their carbon footprints are going to have to go up. We have a responsibility as a global community to make sure they have enough food. What that means is that high-income countries that typically consume more animal products are going to have to more rapidly consider some of these plant-forward dietary shifts.”
Interestingly, dairy has a relatively high water footprint and carbon footprint because ruminants like cows and goats have large environmental impacts. The efficiency and sustainability of the food system in which food products are produced and consumed also makes a significant difference. For instance, beef produced in Paraguay accounts for nearly 17 times more greenhouse gases than beef produced in Denmark.