When people consume food, they rarely correlate it with bigger issues, such as health, society and the environment. In the developed world, food consumption has reached incredible peaks, so much so that nearly every product in the market has some impact on these pressing issues.

Nutrition shapes an individual’s health. The modern diet contains mostly fat, with limited fresh produce and poor water quality. Coupled with inactive lifestyles and constant exposure to environmental pathogens, these contribute to high levels of obesity and chronic disease in people.

In developing nations, people on the fringes of society are at the mercy of cheap commodities to sustain their families. Some rely on seafood that they fish in nearby waters, and some on local produce grown in the surrounding countryside. Some break their backs to grow export-quality produce in exchange for a few cents.

Politics of the Plate

While a young professional in the US spends $22 a day on brunch, a family in rural Bangladesh has to toil seven days a week to have a decent meal. What this means is that food tells many things about modern society. To compensate for the nutritional needs of the working class in the cities, rural populations burn their forests and overfish their reefs to survive and satiate hunger.

Scientists are faced with the challenge of helping people make sense out of big chunks of data and relate it to their everyday lives. Environmentalists urge consumers to be mindful of the food they buy and eat. But to a small community of food experts, scientists should do more to present information and spread awareness so that people understand where modern diet is in the grand scheme of things.

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The Need for a Dietary Shift

Experts suggest that the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint is changing your diet and avoiding products that perpetuate the system. Consumption creates demand, and demand fuels profit-drive agendas and makes multinationals even wealthier.

Cattle ranching and food production are the most inefficient uses of resources on the planet in terms of land use and energy consumption. Seventy percent of the world’s crops are used to make feeds for cattle and livestock, while fruits, vegetables, and nuts make up only 1%.

The consumption of beef alone produces the majority of the total emissions of methane. A ½ pound burger is equivalent to 42 miles of driving a Prius. Our modern diets and culinary traditions have been shaped for many generations. They are deeply rooted in modern society that it would be a complicated task to appeal to people’s social responsibility.

Scientists insist on a dietary shift for many valid reasons. For one, it reduces your environmental footprint. Eating chicken instead of beef alone reduces your emission for up to 80%. Two, changing your diet reduces the demand for such products. And lastly, it is a much more achievable milestone, compared to, say, becoming self-sufficient or shifting to renewables.

On discussions about carbon footprint and climate change, concerns over food security and access are always prioritized. However, in this world of excess, there are still millions of people who live on modest meals every day.