Three youths from Myanmar were awarded the first winner in the UN Global Pulse Lab’s Big Ideas competition for climate action this year. They developed an application that enables users to measure methane emissions from the food they eat, including beef, chicken, pork and insects. What’s striking is the fact that these high schoolers understand the impact of shifting the diets from resource-intensive animal protein such as beef to environmentally friendly animal protein such as insects to mitigate climate change.
In fact, shifting our diets is inevitable. WRI’s study suggested that in average, a person consumed one-third higher protein than the daily adult requirement. The study further suggested that when populations who overconsume animal protein and beef reduce their animal protein and beef intake, we could spare agricultural land roughly two times the size of India and avoid GHG emissions that equal to more than three times total global emissions in 2009.
While shifting the diets is necessary, sustainable eating goes beyond a diet shift and challenges are varying across regions. In Indonesia, the statistics from the 2016 national survey suggested that Indonesian populations consume 2,037 kcal of calories and 56.67 grams of protein on a daily basis, lower than the daily dietary requirement listed in the Health Minister’s Regulations No. 75/2013. This fact is in contrast with the supply side, where Indonesia has already produced energy and protein sources twice higher than the recommended requirement. This implies that overproduction, unequal distribution and food loss and waste might have created a gap between food supply and intake. If these issues persist, they will not only increase agriculture’s resource use and exacerbate environmental problems, but also hampers the efforts to provide sufficient food for all communities.
To address this problem, youth has a critical role. The UN projects that the global urban population will likely increase by 2.5 billion people, with much of the increase taking place in the developing countries, including Indonesia. Approximately 60 percent of these urban residents are also likely to be youth. Even in Indonesia, more than half of the population in 2010 fall under 30 years old segment.
With such populations profile, youths will be extremely vulnerable to food insecurity. For these reasons, it is clear that the younger generation will decide the food consumption pattern in the country, and making youth an integral solution to food security and environmental protection is imperative.
First, youth needs to be intrinsically motivated to promote sustainable eating. From the high schoolers in Myanmar who encouraged people to shift to insects to youth in the U.S. who shape the future of sustainable food as a grower, advocate, and cook, youth’s leadershipis on the rise. To address the high prevalence of food waste amongst youth in Indonesia, youth should be engaged to make their voices heard and be facilitated to create the kind of movement and campaign that has staying power.
Second, create a support system for youth to embark on sustainable and healthy diet by doing intervention early at home, schools and food establishments. The good thing about food is that the change can be made from an individual level all the way to the national level. A considerable amount of studieshas suggested that the types of foods available at home, schools and food establishments stand out as significant influences on eating in children and youth. The media, particularly television, and individual factors such as knowledge, attitudes, and food preferences are also strong determinant of eating habit in children and adolescents. This means that education about healthy and sustainable eating should also be targeted to parents and schools.
Third, one size does not fit all, so look for local alternatives. In the midst of rampant malnutrition and anemia in the country, looking towards local-sourced food is necessary as they can offer great advantages in terms of nutrition, availability and sustainability. On top of plant-based protein such as cereals and tahu tempe, in Gunung Kidul, Java, for instance, people eat grasshoppers as source of protein. In Papua, roasted sago caterpillar is a much enjoyed food. Some in Java enjoyed laron (white ant) for consumption. In fact, insects have been proposed by scientists to be a solution to the problems of climate change and nutrition. Insects are rich in protein and essential micronutrients such as iron and zinc. They also need far less space than livestock, emit lower levels of greenhouse gases, consume less water and only need small feed to generate high protein. The production of 1 kilogram of protein from beef results in 2,850 grams of GHG emissions, while producing 1 kilogram of protein from cricket only generates 1 gram of GHG emissions.
That said, sustainable eating would not last without structural interventions from the government. Sustainable eating is about behavior change which has to be accompanied with a robust policy to actually create the market for the habit to sustain. For instance, populations will not be able to systematically shift the diets if the cost of the proposed alternatives food is high and the supply is rare. Access to and distribution of food are also two significant problems that have to be taken care of.
Finally, it might be hard for us to comprehend the idea of eating insects as an alternative protein source, but addressing the issue of shifting the diets and sustainable eating in fact requires such dramatic, structural and mindset changes. As the Myanmar teenagers believe in their award winning application to mitigate climate change, we need and should start now.
As published on The Jakarta Post by Nirarta Samadhi and Reidinar Juliane