'Eat less steak and ice cream': What climate change means for the food you love

Evan Fraser says he doesn't want to live in a world without steak and ice cream. But after this week's UN report urging global action to combat climate change, he says it's time to rethink what we eat and how food is produced as part of the solution to slow down global warming.

UN report on climate change comes with a recommendation to eat more plant-based foods

Meat is a healthy protein, but the problem is Canadians are eating too much of it, according to Evan Fraser, the University of Guelph's Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security. (Lukas Gojda/Shutterstock)
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Evan Fraser doesn't want to imagine a world without steak and ice cream.

But after this week's UN report urging global action to combat climate change, he says it's time to rethink what we eat and how food is produced as part of the solution to slow down global warming.

"Most of us who are scientists in this area, and indeed also people that are part of the industry are seeing that we're going to have to eat less steak and ice cream in the future, and shift to more of a plant-based diet," Fraser told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Fraser is the Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security at University of Guelph, and the director of the Arrell Food Institute.

There's an emerging consensus in scientific literature, he said, that eating a more plant-based diet with rich fruit and vegetables is not only healthy, but requires less energy, less water and (generally speaking) less land to produce.

He sees the shift to consume less meat as a challenge for consumers and producers to make meaningful changes to help reduce CO2 emissions.

"Now I say this and I'm not a vegetarian," he added.

When the history books of the 21st century are written there's going to be a big chapter about agriculture and food and how to sustainably feed the world's growing population.- Evan Fraser

The UN organization's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a 728-page document on Sunday detailing how the Earth's weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if the world's leaders could somehow limit future human-caused warming to just 0.5C from now, instead of the globally agreed-upon goal of 1C.

A recommendation in the report pointed to making significant changes to agricultural practices and livestock management as an effective climate adaptation strategy, as well as decreasing the demand for livestock products at the global scale.

There's a lot that industry and science can do to help reduce animal agriculture's environmental impact, said Fraser, like breeding more efficient livestock that produces less methane gas, for example.

Shifting toward alternative proteins

It's not that animal protein isn't healthy, but Fraser said Canadians typically eat more meat than they should.

"About 50 per cent of our diet should be fruits and vegetables, and we're not doing that. So we have to therefore convince consumers to to shift their behaviour," he told Tremonti.

In the last couple of years, Canada's largest food processor Maple Leaf has made investments in alternative proteins, including working with a farm in Peterborough, Ont. to create cricket powder for President's Choice.

Crickets have become known for being packed with protein, but are also high in iron, fibre, calcium, amino acids and vitamin B12, according to CBC News' Jacqueline Hansen.

"There's also a lot of soy products and plant-based protein products which big companies are really starting to investigate … [to] give consumers a large number of new choices."

There could be bugs in your groceries in the near future…with Loblaws planning to will sell crickets to consumers. The company says crickets are more sustainable than other forms of animal protein — but it remains to be seen if it their investment will give the insect food indsutry the boost it needs 4:14

Fraser sees the challenge to reduce meat consumption as a defining moment for the next generation.

"When the history books of the 21st century are written, there's going to be a big chapter about agriculture and food and how to sustainably feed the world's growing population," he told Tremonti.

"But I also think that this is a huge opportunity that Canada, in particular, is poised to take advantage of."


With files from The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News. Produced by Alison Masemann, Richard Raycraft and Suzanne Dufresne.

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