Try our meatless breakfast and lunch strategy, with a food-waste elimination twist, to make your footprint transition a success. Cutting meat from your diet and replacing it with plant-based protein is the most impactful change you can make for the planet. But going cold turkey is hard for most people, and often results in backsliding.
Meat consumption accounts for up to 14% of household carbon emissions. At the same time, food waste contributes to CO2 emissions — Americans waste about 400 pounds of food each year. We worked out a strategy that allows occasional meat consumption, but only if there is leftover meat-based food from a previous dinner. That gives you a pass, so you don’t have to feel guilty when you do eat meat.
Last spring, I started to skip meat at breakfast and lunch. Instead of breakfasts that included sausage patties or bacon, I shifted to nut breads to get protein. A variety of vegan and fish-based meals provide plenty of alternatives — as I get further along in the program, vegan meals are becoming more attractive. If I crave sausage at breakfast, I opt for an Impossible sausage sandwich. But when there is leftover chicken curry from the previous evening’s dinner, I eat it to ensure that we do not contribute to the 40% of food that is wasted due to spoilage after it leaves the field or farm.
Author Jonathan Safran Foer recommends a similar approach in his 2019 book, We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast. Foer correctly argues that humans cannot make the transition to a net-zero lifestyle without switching to a plant-based diet for most of our meals. According to Worldwatch Institute’s estimates, Foer writes, CO2 emissions from livestock accounts for 51% of carbon emissions annually, “more than all cars, planes, buildings, power plants, and industry combined.”
The simple change to plant-based breakfast and lunch has lowered my carbon footprint by approximately 40% to 50% compared to my previous diet. By allowing myself one or two meat-based leftover lunches a week, my family has eliminated about 182 pounds of food waste annually. Of course, eating leftover meat every day would be cheating on the commitment, but we plan our shopping and meal preparation to reduce leftovers, and most weeks I eat only one leftover meal at lunchtime.
Here are the “rules” of the meatless breakfast and lunch plan. Try it out and make changes to fit your life and locality.
- Breakfast: Avoid meat and meat-fat-based foods, including anything cooked using grease.
- Lunch: Opt for vegetarian meals, such as lunches made with lentils, beans, or tofu. Try to use alternatives to eggs and dairy, too. If you have leftover meat-based dinner to reheat, allow yourself up to two meat lunches a week at first; later, you can reduce to one or no meat leftovers.
- Dinner: Enjoy some meat, if you want. We suggest switching from beef to lower-carbon chicken to reduce the CO2 footprint of your meals by an average of 54%. If you find yourself making too much food, revisit how you plan your shopping so that you don’t have leftovers. Remember, if you are eating more than two meat-based lunches a week, that’s cheating.
After you start to manage your daily meat consumption, aim to reduce the frequency of leftover meat lunches. But don’t punish yourself for falling short of perfection. With this plan, at least you are eliminating food waste when you do eat meat during the day.
This article was originally published on February 1, 2021.