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To save the planet, we need to evaluate our plates

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News Icon 4/14/2021

Written by Jeff Doyle

To date, conversations about food sustainability have been dominated by the need to reduce greenhouse gas-driven climate change. As a result, an oversimplified narrative has emerged that switching from red meat to poultry and fish one-for-one is a sustainable choice.

But food system impacts stretch near and far: If you care about the health of your local rivers and farmlands, as well as the people who are dependent on those resources for income; if you’re interested in the preservation of the Amazon Rainforest; or if you’re interested in the welfare of farmed animals in a system which prioritizes profit over principle, you need to look beyond greenhouse gases. Fortunately, you have a chance to change the world three times a day by considering the complete picture of what is on your plate.

While Americans’ consumption of beef continues to wane, chicken, fish, and dairy products have risen in its place: Over the last 50 years, chicken production in the United States has tripled to over nine billion birds per year. If this trend continues and expands globally in misguided pursuit of a more sustainable protein, we will unnecessarily grow our food system’s footprint, rather than shrink it.

Today, Compassion in World Farming USA (Compassion USA) launched the Evaluate Your Plate calculator, a first-of-its-kind interactive tool that takes a comprehensive look at what we eat and how it affects the world around us—beyond greenhouse gases to land and water use, nutrient pollution, biodiversity loss, and impact on animals.

The goal of Evaluate Your Plate is to illustrate the positive impact of making more space on our plates for the foods we know are good for ourselves and our planet—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins.

The growing imperative to shift to more plant-heavy diets has been embraced by environment and climate experts around the world—from the UN leaders to industry titans like Bill Gates. The prominent philanthropist has advocated for meat reduction and invested in trailblazing plant-based protein companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, asserting: “The richer the world gets, the more meat it eats; the more meat it eats, the bigger the threat to the planet…With a little moderation and more innovation, I do believe the world can meet its need for meat.”

To illustrate the “threat to the planet” that Gates describes, Evaluate Your Plate takes a hard look at the foods that comprise the bulk of our food system, including factory-farmed animal products. Users can compare the impact of common dishes or take a quick questionnaire on their diet; in both cases, they get an impact report card across six sustainability metrics and alternative recipes for a healthy planet. The tool uses life cycle assessment data from peer-reviewed research and state of the art databases, capturing the environmental impacts of the full production chain of a food—from farming to processing to transport.

In addition to releasing the calculator so that individuals can make informed food decisions, Compassion USA is calling on all major food companies and international governing bodies to more holistically account for and address the impacts of food and begin shifting towards more plant-heavy diets that are affordable and accessible to all.

Future applications of Evaluate Your Plate include offering tangible, meaningful solutions for major food companies looking to hit sustainability targets and rebalance protein portfolios. For example, the 200+ brands that have committed to higher welfare chicken could pair this crucial transition with a commitment to rebalance their protein supplies toward more plant-based foods—and in doing so, benefit billions of chickens and the planet simultaneously.

We also released a fun, animated video that brings the impact of eating meat, fish, and poultry to life.

To access the calculator, simply go to EvaluateYourPlate.com and start making a difference, today.

Jeff Headshot Jeff Doyle is the Head of Food Business at Compassion in World Farming USA.
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