Food: Plant-rich diet #4

Project Drawdown acknowledges that global food consumption will increase, but recommend dietary changes:

If 50 percent of the world’s population restricts their diet to a healthy 2,500 calories per day and reduces meat consumption overall, we estimate at least 26.7 gigatons of emissions could be avoided from dietary change alone. If avoided deforestation from land use change is included, an additional 39.3 gigatons of emissions could be avoided, making healthy, plant-rich diets one of the most impactful solutions at a total of 66 gigatons reduced.

Plant-rich and local

There are two major pathways to a plant-rich diet. Project Drawdown focuses on eating less meat as a major solution. The other pathway is to decrease the amount of processed food while increasing consumption of fresh, local food. Foods such  imported sugary cereals are poor substitutes for what we can grow here.

Northland has a benign climate enabling us to grow a wide range of fruit and vegetables. Unlike many continental locations, we can still harvest a variety of plant foods during our mild winter’s. Northland doesn’t grow grains commercially, but the bananas we can grow are much more nutritious than white bread.

Increasing the volume of local food consumed produces multiple benefits. Reducing consumption of processed food is healthier, and fresh local food reduces CO2 generated by transport, processing and packaging. If it is grown locally using regenerative practices it will also increase soil carbon.

Eat food, not to much, mostly plants. (Michael Pollan)

Eating less meat

This video encapsulates the diverse impacts caused by our attempts to provide meat and dairy products for a growing global population.

New Zealanders love meat and dairy

We are big meat eaters. It is difficult to find reliable figures – this source ranks us as the 7th highest with consumption of 72.8 kgs per person annually. Opinions differ as to the relative merits of eating meat, or a vegetarian or vegan diet, but it appears we eat more meat than we need to.

Traditionally, New Zealanders share the Western practice using meat as the central feature of the evening meal. By contrast, many Asian countries traditionally use meat as a compliment to other flavours. However increasing numbers of Kiwis are adopting a vegetarian diet. A Roy Morgan survey reported a rise from 8.1% in 2011 to 10.3% in 2015.

Health impacts

Given the immensity of the climate change challenge, any win-wins we can achieve should be embraced. Reducing global meat consumption will probably have a beneficial impact on human health. The video below includes evidence from a large research programme. Another massive study pointing us to a plant-rich diet is the Campbells’ China Study.

According to the Northland District Health Board (2012, page 8), Northlanders have higher rates of health risk factors including obesity. Thirty percent of Northland adults are obese compared with 19% for NZ. The rate is higher for Māori (47%). Obesity rates are not directly related to meat consumption, but transitioning diets from highly processed foods and fast foods to a plant rich diet will help.

Transitioning to a more balanced diet

It makes sense to make this transition in the New Zealand context for both climate change mitigation and human health benefits. How do we make that transition in a way that is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable? That is the key question.

Agriculture is a mainstay of the Northland economy. Farmers have been the target for criticism about water quality nation-wide and increasingly, the spotlight on climate change related issues will be directed at our farmers.

There is a lot to like about the way we farm. While many farmers around the world use supplements and house animals in factory farms, our meat and dairy production is primarily pasture based. But the pressure to constantly increase production is eroding that advantage. How do we modify our production systems to be more climate friendly? We can frame our transition efforts in regenerative agriculture (Drawdown solution #11) and on transforming our dietary habits.


  • How do we make the transition to a locally grown plant-rich diet in a way that is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable?
  • How do we modify the food environment to shift diets away from processed, meat based diets to a plant-rich diet?
  • How are shifts in dietary habits best supported?
  • How can this solution be implemented in a manner that supports vulnerable populations?