Climatarian? Regenivore? New diets take aim at climate change
Why it matters: Food manufacturers, restaurants, and supermarkets are racing to cater to the zeal for lower-carbon eating choices, which has people eschewing plastic packaging, ingredients flown in from afar, and foods that are environmentally damaging to produce.
- While there's plenty of disagreement about what to avoid, top villains include faves like red meat, chocolate, avocados, sugar, and — gasp — coffee.
- The "eat local" mantra is being replaced by the notion that what you eat is more important — since transportation is sometimes just a small part of your meal's carbon footprint.
Driving the news: Terms like "climatarian" are getting newfound attention from corporate America as young consumers gravitate toward what they perceive as "green" diets.
- "By 2030, our routine food choices will be climate-directed," advises a report from consulting firm Kearney. "The companies that mobilize now will win the future of food."
- Restaurant chains like Just Salad, Chipotle, and Panera Bread are putting "carbon labels" on their foods — and, in the case of Just Salad, adding a "climatarian" filter on its app.
- Supermarket chain Fresh Market is among the many food prognosticators that declared "climatarian eating" a top trend for 2023.
What they're saying: "If you walk into your local Stop & Shop in the middle of January, those blueberries have been traveling for 10 days and probably started out in Ecuador," says Paco Underhill, an environmental psychologist and author of the forthcoming book "How We Eat."
- "There's a nascent movement, particularly anchored in younger people, that is recognizing that," he tells Axios.
How it works: Climavores' rules "are not hard and fast," instead allowing "a level of flexibility, based on the preferences of those who partake," per Fresh Market's report.
- "Participation can include everything from eating pasture-raised to buying more local and organic ingredients, to reduce carbon emissions from transport to eating a plant-based diet with crops that are good for soil."
- Climatarianism is "less defined by ingredients," and more by "food choices based on climate impacts, practicing climate-conscious eating based on a series of dietary trade-offs intended to benefit the planet."
There's a dizzying nomenclature affiliated with climate-conscious eating, with meaningful yet hard-to-parse differences.
- "Sustainatarians" eat some meat but filter their diet through an environmental lens.
- So do "climatarians" and "climavores," who tend to be concerned — as one manifesto put it — "not only about the origin of ingredients, but also about the agency that those ingredients have in providing responses to human-induced climatic events."
- "Reducetarians" try to eat less meat for reasons ranging from animal welfare to their health or the environment.
- "They might be concerned about biodiversity loss, fresh water availability, or food justice — or trying to save money," Brian Kateman, president and co-founder of the Reducetarian Foundation, tells Axios.
What's trending: "Regenivore" is the latest and hottest eating label, the New York Times recently reported.
- "A new generation wants food from companies that are actively healing the planet through carbon-reducing agriculture, more rigorous animal welfare policies, and equitable treatment of the people who grow and process food," per Times ace food writer Kim Severson.
Yes, but: Eyebrows must be raised about the amount of greenwashing involved in corporate efforts to embrace climatarianism.
- "All food products suffer from greenwashing, including pet food," asserts Earth.org, an environmental news and data platform.
- The most common examples: Promoting a product as "organic" or "made from real ingredients" when it's actually from a factory farm or uses genetically modified ingredients.
- Class-action lawsuits have been mounting against the labeling and claims made by food companies.
- The European Union is cracking down on "misleading climate claims on packaging and in advertisements," focusing on phrases such as "climate neutral" and “100% CO2 compensated,” Bloomberg reported last week.
- While "Meatless Monday" and other such efforts have their adherents, it's unclear how big a sacrifice most people are really willing to make — like steering clear of mozzarella from factory-farmed cows or shunning almonds because they're water-intensive.
The big picture: There are all kinds of vertigo in the food world over best practices — as encapsulated by the epic news of the closing of Noma, a Copenhagen restaurant sometimes considered the best in the world.
- On one hand, Noma fetishizes local ingredients and foraging, serving "grilled reindeer heart on a bed of fresh pine, and saffron ice cream in a beeswax bowl," per the Times, which broke the news of the closing.
- On the other hand, Noma was accused of exploiting workers and using less-than-humane tactics in the pursuit of fine dining.
What's next: Climate-based eating "might be in its infancy" but will gain steam as younger consumers "increase their concern for the planet," Fresh Market's report predicts.
The bottom line: The opacity of farming and food manufacturing procedures can make it hard to determine the provenance of one's meal or its true carbon footprint, but it may be true that every little bit helps.
Jennifer's thought bubble: Throwing a dinner party has never been more of a minefield, with everyone's diet to consider (Noom? Vegevore? Ketogenic?). Best to check with your guests in advance.