There are so many things that we as individuals can do to reduce our impact on planet Earth — and one of the areas where we hold a lot of power is our diets. But which diet is the best for the environment? Many studies have found that in general, a plant-based diet is the most planet-friendly one humans can adopt. But what about the Climatarian diet and the Climavore diet? Can these climate-minded ways of eating make an even bigger difference?
Keep reading for the details on the Climatarian and Climavore diets, what you can eat while following these diets, and more.
What is a Climatarian diet?
As defined by the official Climatarian website, run by the nonprofit Climates Network CIC, a Climatarian diet is “the healthy, climate friendly, nature friendly diet” that can reduce an individual’s annual CO2 emissions by a tonne. According to the website, the main thing that one needs to do to technically follow the Climatarian diet is avoid eating beef and lamb. That’s because cows and sheep are ruminants and produce immense amounts of methane, use more land than other farmed animals, and have about five times the climate impact of other animals used for meat.
Other “off the menu” items for those eating a Climatarian diet include goats, “unsustainable” fish, any food that was imported by airplane, and food grown in heated greenhouses. The diet does permit eating pigs, poultry, “sustainable” fish, dairy products, and eggs, in addition to plant-based foods. However, some Climatarians take the diet to the next level by omitting all or most animal products, as well as following Climatarian’s other suggestions of how to “top up with even more climate-friendly food habits.”
For example, the Climatarian website suggests eating local, seasonal, and organic; subscribing to ugly produce boxes; shopping consciously to avoid creating waste (i.e. shopping zero waste or package-free); and growing your own food.
However, the organization also suggests eating free range animal products to lower the carbon footprint of your diet. This is a bit of a greenwashed recommendation, as most countries do not have strict regulations surrounding terms like free range. In reality, “free range” is just an unregulated marketing term, and most animal products with “free range” labels on their packaging still have their animals living in factory farms or CAFOs, with no laws governing emissions, the handling of the animals’ waste, or the welfare of the animals.
Basically, the Climatarian diet is for those who want to reduce the impact of their diet, but do not want to quit eating animal products. “It’s not all or nothing, just do what you can,” states a video on Climatarian’s website.
What is a Climavore diet?
In 2015, activists Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe founded the Climavore project, in which they explore the impacts of diets on the climate, operating under the notion that "not all veg are created equal," according to HuffPost. The news outlet explains that the Climavore diet is a flexible and ever-shifting diet that takes into account current environmental events, such as droughts and water pollution.
Basically, “Climavore” is a term for those who eat with the planet — and its changing climate — in mind. Climavores are encourages to eat organic and locally-grown foods; sea plants or bivalves instead of farmed fish; plant-based protein instead of beef; and more.
Consulting firm Kearney defines Climavores as those who “actively make food choices based on climate impacts, practicing climate-conscious eating based on a series of dietary trade-offs intended to benefit the planet.”
Kearney recently published a report titled “Dawn of the Climavores” in honor of Earth Day 2022, which concluded that by 2030, the climate will guide humanity’s daily food choices.
The study surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers on the topic, and 15 percent of those surveyed were “very aware” of the environmental impact of their food choices, 65 percent were “somewhat aware,” while 20 percent were “not aware.” The majority of those surveyed want to adopt vegetarian or vegan diets, and about half of those surveyed worry that eco-friendly foods are too costly.
What is better for the environment, a Climatarian, Climavore, or vegan diet?
The Climatarian website itself states: “If you want to choose the best diet for the planet go vegan … There is no question that a plant-based diet has the lowest climate impact.”
A landmark 2018 study by the University of Oxford made the same conclusion. This advice certainly makes sense, as animal products have been proven to use far more land, water, and emissions than pretty much all plant-based foods.
That said, there is no need to pit the Climatarian and plant-based diets against each other — instead, those who care about reducing their environmental impact should consider incorporating both Climatarianism and veganism into their lifestyles.
For instance, popular sustainability YouTuber Shelbi Orme, aka Shelbizleee, identifies as a Climatarian. Orme aims to follow most of the guidelines set out by the organization, such as buying zero-waste groceries, cooking from scratch, and growing her own produce — and for that reason, her Climatarian diet happens to be almost entirely plant-based.
“I try to eat a diet that is best for the planet, in terms of resource use, like water, land, greenhouse gas emissions…” Orme explained in a recent video, in which she showed “what a ‘Climatarian’ actually eats in a day,” in which everything she ate was vegan.
Basically, vegans who want to further reduce their environmental impacts could stand to incorporate a few tips from Climatarians, and Climatarians could certainly learn a few things from plant-based eaters.