Being a flexitarian and contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas

22 Jun 2016

By Patrick Haverman -

What good news yesterday to hear about China's plan to cut meat consumption by 50%. It’s been cheered by both climate campaigners and health experts alike.

I stopped buying meat at the beginning of 2014. This change in my lifestyle was brought about mainly environmental reasons but also because it was becoming clearer that vegetables are simply healthier for your body then meat. To save the animals, reduce CO2 emissions on the planet and at the same time live longer and healthier…. It all seemed a logical choice to me. With my wife only eating fish the cut back was not that difficult to implement into our daily lives.

To explain this new diet identity to people I use the term ‘flexitarian’. Here in China we often eat at large round tables with a “lazy Susan” in the middle, a big round glass plate which rotates on an axis. Everybody orders a couple of dishes and you all share during the meal. As I don’t wish to be the difficult person at the table during these dinners (and to taste some meat once in a while), I just eat whatever is ordered, which includes a little bit of meat now and then.

After I first made the change, I had to look up the term when somebody called me a ‘flexitarian’. Contrary to what a lot of people think, it does indeed exist: a “flexitarian diet is one that is plant-based with the occasional inclusion of meat products”. There are still many individuals who push back, joking that this is “fake” or who challenge me that I’m either a vegetarian or not – along the same lines that being a ‘little bit pregnant’ does not exist.

I first thought about a vegetarian diet when I learned about the surprising water consumption needed for raising beef. Formally, in one of my environmentally-conscious moments, I had decided to take shorter showers to save water. But when I heard that one kilo of beef needs 15,400 liters of water before it ends up on your dish, I immediately started cutting down on meat (and am now enjoying my showers again!)

People should be made aware of how much ‘invisible’ water is used in products from food to clothing to technology; below is a small graph but I recommend you search on the web for more information, for example this excellent water calculator, as well as the article and infographics in this Guardian newspaper article.

Being a flexitarian is an interesting discussion, where it is not about the definition or the degree of being a ‘full vegetarian’ versus a ‘bit of a carnivore’. The bottom line is that if people, convinced by the strong environmental or health reasons, cut back on meat consumption then this in turn will help animals, the environment and themselves.

Even going meatless once a week can help reduce our carbon footprint and save precious resources like fossil fuels and fresh water.

Why don’t you try it out as well? According to yesterday’s news article about the new dietary guidelines for China you could contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 1bn tonnes by 2030.


UNDP Around the world