This is what sustainable nutrition could look like: insight from SWR

We would need almost two lands to provide resources for all people in the long run. So the way we use resources must change. A key factor is our diet.

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Sustainable nutrition is complex

Eating sustainably is only possible as a vegetarian, ideally even as a vegan. A thesis that divides our society. Some completely agree with her, while others find her too radical.

according to dr. Matin Qaim, professor at the University of Bonn, the thesis cannot be answered so easily, because according to Qaim, the issue of sustainable nutrition has several dimensions. In addition to climate protection, water and land use, nutrition, health and social factors must also be taken into account.

“If you really only look at the weather, then you might be better off not eating meat, because meat is simply more climate intensive than a plant-based diet. But if you incorporate different dimensions of sustainability, then consuming small to moderate amounts of meat can also be justified,” says agricultural economist and agricultural scientist Qaim.

The cows are in a barn and are eating.  (Photo: picture-alliance / report services, /dpa-Zentralbild)

When it comes to sustainable nutrition, there are many different factors to consider.

image-alliance / reporting services

/dpa center image

New model diet from Finland

Helsinki scientists have developed a nutritional model that takes into account some of these factors. It covers all the important nutrients, protects the soil and water, and is low in greenhouse gases. This is possible because animal products are being replaced by new foods.

According to Dr. Isabelle Weindl of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Foods that reduce the climate footprint “are often novel foods based on microorganisms, for example based on fungi, bacteria and algae, but also those that are produced from cell or tissue cultures.”

This diet is optimal for the environment.

An optimized diet with these new foods could reduce greenhouse gases, land use and water scarcity by more than 80% in Europe. Meat, eggs, milk, fish, and animal fats are completely avoided. According to the study, a diet with novel foods is even better for the environment than a purely vegan diet, at least for the use of land and water resources. For greenhouse gas reduction alone, a purely vegan diet without novel foods is slightly more effective.

However, that’s all theory. Ultimately, a vegan diet plus novelty foods like meat substitutes would be ideal for our environment.

Illustration of different types of meat cubes (Photo: picture-alliance / Reportdienste, picture alliance/dpa/Merck | -)

Eat meat without an animal having to die for it? This works! Whole meat meals can be produced from individual cells in the laboratory.

The concept will not catch on just yet.

According to Dr. Matin Qaim, however, also social factors. Therefore, it will take some time for this form of nutrition to establish itself. In Europe, this is partly due to a lack of acceptance among the population and a lack of awareness. But also because the production of new laboratory foods as meat substitutes is still too complex and expensive.

according to dr. Matin Qaim is compounded by a fundamentally poorer supply situation in developing countries. Many do not have year-round access to fresh fruits, vegetables or other produce that is both perishable and an important source of nutrients.

“Especially in these situations, small amounts of meat can be very, very useful. Part of the question is also how do we use certain resources, like grass, that humans can’t use directly because humans can’t digest cellulose at all.” .

Unlike cows, for example. Therefore, keeping animals and then eating them in green areas that are not suitable for agriculture can be sustainable. Not only in developing countries, but also in Europe. That does not mean that we should continue as before.

Corn cultivation as animal feed (Photo: IMAGO, /blickwinkel)

Maize is grown primarily as fodder for animals.



Our diet will never be emission free

Currently, nearly 50 percent of the world’s arable land is used to grow animal fodder rather than human food. dr Matin Qaim believes that this is not good for effective social food supply or the environment and must be changed. It is not about not using more resources, but about better managing the resources we have. Because we can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions through our diet:

“In Germany we are seeing a very, very slight decrease in average meat consumption, but it is so slow that it would take us decades to reach an acceptable point in the long term. We need to look at ways and opportunities to speed this up, it’s politically awkward and socially undesirable, but I would also consider meat taxes as an option, for example.”

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