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How your diet can help fight climate change (even without going vegan)

Check out the latest Climate Lab video from UC and Vox Media to find out how your food choices can help fight climate change.

Come January, many of us will resolve to cut down on carbs in our diet. But what about cutting down on the carbon?

Everything that ends up on our plate has a cost in terms of carbon output – and thus an impact on global warming. And the cost is large: Agriculture is responsible for nearly 25 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s about twice as much as from cars.

Wondering how that translates to your plate? An average-sized steak has a comparable carbon footprint to driving about three miles in a gas-powered car. That’s because cows produce methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Then there’s the grain raised to feed them, and the nitrous oxide gas produced by the fertilizers used to raise the grain. It all adds up.

The good news is that reducing the carbon impact of your diet is not difficult – and as a side benefit, these changes will also improve your health. Because every food has a varying carbon footprint, you can help fight global climate change with every meal.

Just swapping that steak for fish results in an eight-fold reduction in emissions. Switch to beans or lentils and emissions drop to near zero. Do a little, do a lot – it all helps.

“What we’re finding is that reducing your meat intake can actually offset the emissions from all of our cars and even double that,” said Maya Almaraz, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis. “It’s not really something that you write into the Paris climate agreement. It’s something we have to decide on every day.”

While a vegan diet may reduce your carbon footprint more than any other dietary choice, a Mediterranean diet is really close. And many people find it easier to follow.

“Our studies are showing that the Mediterranean diet — which is rich in nuts and beans and has a lot of fish, maybe chicken once a week, maybe red meat only once a month — if everyone were to move toward it, it’s the equivalent of taking about a billion or more cars of pollution out of the planet every year,” said Ben Houlton, director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis.

And while you’re helping save the planet, you’ll also be helping yourself. Studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet can reduce the incidence of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases.

Watch the video above featuring Ben Houlton and Maya Almaraz to learn more about how your simple, everyday food choices can take a bite out of climate change.

Read more in this Vox article by UC’s Andy Murdock.

Ready to try something new?

UC Berkeley’s Wellness website has recipes and other helpful resources. To get started, check out these recipes for eight hearty meatless main dishes or learn more about the health benefits of eating fish.

Wondering what foods make up the Mediterranean diet? Check out this simple, one-page summary.

Seeking to “inspire good health through cultural food traditions,” the non-profit organization Oldways provides recipes for healthy delicious food from various cultures, including Mediterranean, Asian, Latin American and African Heritage.

The Meatless Mondays website has hundreds of tasty recipes without you-know-what.

Learn more about how the food we eat and the food we waste affects climate change, and what we can do about it, at You can also catch up on earlier Climate Lab videos you might have missed.

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