To get into the spirit, I recently watched David Attenborough’s latest documentary, Breaking Bo limits: the Science of Our Planet, on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. Despite painting a terrifying picture of the carbon already overheating our planet and the environmental limits the world is pushing to the limit, the documentary offers hope.
In the end, Attenborough suggests three simple but effective ways each of us can do something meaningful to help mend our broken planet. First, he suggests planting trees to remove carbon from the atmosphere. He also suggests reducing waste to a minimum. (These will be the topics of future columns on these pages.)
Today, I would like to focus on the third solution, which is probably the easiest of the three: eat healthy.
The global food system is believed to be responsible for about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and animal agriculture is responsible for 18%. To put this in perspective, transportation escapes are responsible for 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Forests, the lungs of the earth, are cut down to create farmland, destroying natural habitats and biodiversity in the process, and methane from livestock contributes to the climate crisis. And by 2050, emissions from agriculture are expected to increase by 80%.
The EAT-Lancet Commission, which analyzed this issue, concluded that the best diet for our planet is plant-based. By literally eating your vegetables, each of us can do our part to help the environment. But you don’t have to give up burgers entirely. Scientists suggest that if people simply followed more “flexitarian” diets, this would have a major planetary impact.
The idea is to reduce, not eliminate, the consumption of animal products. A flexitarian diet involves eating more plant-based foods, incorporating more seasonal fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, and whole grains. The more this can be done, the greater the climate benefit.
And, according to scientists, following flexitarian diets could not only offer greater climate benefits, but could also return levels of biodiversity, land, water, nitrogen and phosphorus to a safe operating space.
So what is Israel doing to help people eat a more plant-based flexitarian diet?
In the last quarter of 2020, meat and fish consumption in Israel decreased by 10%. And during the lockdowns, “alternative proteins” enjoyed the highest levels of growth of any food category, growth believed to be leading in the world.
Israel is also a world leader in alternative protein R&D, with innovations that offer meat-like textures and flavors, without the impact of meat carbon. Redefine Meat, for example, offers hamburgers, sausages, kebabs, cigars wrapped in cakes, and premium ground beef for outdoor grilling.
For true carnivores, there is also a real meat option, without the environmental footprint of normal meat: cell-grown meat and poultry products.
Actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio has invested in pioneering Aleph Farms, the first company to produce steak from cow cells instead of slaughtering animals. And fellow actor Ashton Kutcher invested in MeaTech, which is using 3D bioprinting and tissue engineering technologies to develop sustainable to industrialized animal husbandry.
There are also numerous alternative “milks” or real milk produced in a laboratory, without the carbon footprint of cow’s milk, such as BioMilk, ReMilk and Fantastic Farms. And the Tel Aviv University researchers are producing Imagindairy milk “from yeast, not beast.”
The growth of Israel’s food tech scene can also be seen outside of Israel. Else Nutrition, a non-GMO, soy-free, plant-based Israeli formula for young children, for example, is being distributed in more than 30,000 US retail outlets. Redefine Meat is expected to expand into Europe in late 2021, and to Asia and the US in 2022. Aleph Farms has even produced meat grown on the International Space Station!
In fact, the internationally renowned Good Food Institute has opened an Israeli branch, to make use of Israeli cultured and plant-based meat protein alternatives, to help transform the global food system.
As scientist Johan Rockström, who collaborated with David Attenborough on the documentary, put it, eating a healthy flexitarian diet “could be the single most important way to help save the planet.” In this sense, Israel is contributing significantly.
The writer is a television news anchor and Middle East correspondent for India’s WION (World Is One). Author of Tikkun Olam: Israel vs COVID-19, she has helped numerous multinationals report on their contributions to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals.