About 25% of the climate impact from an individual is due to our food habits. Compared with energy use from buildings and transportation [that require significant structural changes that an individual can do little/nothing about] this is an area that almost everyone in the OECD - and rich people in emerging economies like China and India - can do something about.
Skip meat (start with red meat) or at least reduce it drastically, is probably the easiest and most ethical you can do as an individual. (See Scientific American for example, a vegetarian in the US emits one and half tonnes less CO2 than a meat-eating American)
Changing habits is not easy and eating and the very idea of phasing out meat can feel close to impossible if you want to keep your quality of life and have been meat all your life. This brings me to the responsibility of the restaurants. They set trends and provide people with opportunities to try new things. They also have time to think about the food they serve as professionals. By supporting people’s opportunity to eat more ethical and low carbon food they have the opportunity to support the transportation towards a more sustainable and low carbon society.
One campaign that could highlight the situation around the world could be to measure the “climate friendliness” among restaurants in key metropolitan areas around the world. A simple six level rating system could be used where average numbers for different cities (or even parts of cities) could be compared. By looking at the menu (in many cases this can be done on the web, making this campaign pretty easy to realize)
The rating system for restaurants:
A. Climate footprint provided for all dishes, non veggie dishes are indicated on the menu instead of indicating the veggie dishes and handing out veggie recipes : 6 points
B. More than three veggie dishes: 3 points
C. At least two dishes and not more than one of the three below: 1 point
D. One veggie dish, not any of the three below: -1 point
E. Only one of these: Salad, Pasta, Risotto: -3 points
F. No main course: -6 points
In India right now and there would be very many B restaurants and the opportunities for A as the marking of “non veggie” dishes are almost standard.
Two other things I would like to explore:
1. Rate TV programs and web pages by leading chefs from a climate and ethical perspective. How much do you help people and the planet, and how much do you destroy, by following the recipes from Jamie Oliver compared to Martha Stewart?
2. Develop an electronic climate guide for buying food that can help compose low carbon dishes.
The most important is, and this must never be forgotten, what you do at work or together with other (too many politicians and business leaders duck their responsibility and think "individuals" or the "market" should move first. Stuck in a system that keep people depending on cars and living in energy consuming houses that is hard. Wired had an article about "the man" showing how much CO2 that is due to the infrastructure, can't find it but I think it was around 8.5 tonnes per person [here is the article].). Big changes require big coordinated actions. Changing governments and companies is what we need much more than change of light bulbs. If the planet depend on it governments should ban old light bulbs and responsible companies stop selling them, not asking people to chose between this and a million different things. But food is emotional so if people start thinking about food maybe things can start to happen?