By Jennifer Molidor, PhD
Climate change, habitat loss and pollution are overwhelming our planet. Thankfully, these enormous threats are being met by a bold new wave of environmental activism.
<p>But there's one place where our movement hasn't brought mass extinction and the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis" rel="noopener noreferrer">climate crisis</a> to the table: The literal tables at environmental events — from local board meetings to international conferences where meat-centered menus are still the norm.</p>
<p>With holiday parties rapidly approaching, now is the time for environmental groups to walk the talk by adopting Earth-friendly menus for their events.</p><p>The global scientific community agrees that we must reduce meat and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/dairy">dairy</a> production to tackle the most pressing environmental disasters of our time. To do that, we have to change what we eat. Plant-forward changes and significant meat and dairy reduction must begin with the meals served at environmentally focused events.</p><p>The catering industry is no small potatoes. Catering sales in the U.S. are worth more than $11 billion each year. Over the past three years, the industry has grown by nearly 8 percent annually. Changing event menus can make a big difference in reducing the environmental impact of U.S. food production and shifting the way people think about food.</p><p>For every 100 people at a holiday party or event, a plant-based menu can save more than a ton of greenhouse gas emissions, nearly an acre of habitat and 13,000 gallons of water. Those benefits are tallied up in<a href="https://www.takeextinctionoffyourplate.com/earth-friendly_events.html" target="_blank"> <em>Catering to the Climate: How Earth-friendly Menus at Events Can Help Save the Planet</em></a><em>,</em> a new report by the Center for Biological Diversity, where I work.</p>
<p>Making this catering shift can bring other environmental savings. For example, those plant-based choices can <a href="https://lpelc.org/manure-production-and-characteristics/" target="_blank">eliminate two tons of manure</a> and the toxic byproducts of improperly contained manure that contaminate public waterways and lands. In fact, the manure footprint of most animal-based dishes is greater than the actual weight of the food served. On the other hand, dishes free of animal products have no manure footprint.</p><p><em>Catering to the Climate </em>found that planet-friendly menus are a hugely effective way to fight the climate crisis. Each person who selects plant-based dishes at a day-long event cuts as much greenhouse pollution as would be emitted by 41 miles of driving, powering the average home for one day or charging <a href="https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator" target="_blank">2,100 smart phones.</a></p><p>In addition, that one person's low-impact meal choices would spare more than 400 square feet of farmland, prevent about 100 pounds of manure pollution and save 250 gallons of water.</p><p>When an event planner multiplies that across their entire guest list by serving plant-based dishes as the default, the environmental savings are substantial. A low-impact menu can reduce carbon emissions by as much as 85 percent, water by 72 percent and land use by 93 percent, in addition to nearly eliminating manure pollution.</p>
<p>Menus that focus on plant-based dishes aren't just virtuous — they're also trending. People are increasingly seeking foods that are healthier for them and the planet. And for environmental events, serving plant-based meals sends a message that connects the movement with its own values and actions.</p><p>As we celebrate progress made in 2019 and start planning out a new year, environmental event planners should cater to the climate with delicious menus that honor the work we're doing and support a sustainable food system. </p><p><em>Jennifer Molidor is a senior food campaigner with the <a href="https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/" rel="noopener noreferrer">Center for Biological Diversity</a>.</em></p>
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climate crisis climate change pollution climate action meat dairy food holidays vegan vegetarian plant based