Taste the Change: An experiential approach to rethink our climate choices through food

By Christopher Neglia

An empty stomach has no ears
-Senegalese proverb 

The development and climate days were held today at a converted factory in Saint Denis, Paris. The event was led by the Red Cross Climate Center, IFAD and others. The conversations were fascinating, and perhaps more conceptual than the COP21 proceedings going on in nearby Le Bourget.

In the morning session, Dr. Pablo Suarez presented the challenges that climate change poses to our diets. Will meat consumption continue to be sustainable in coming years as countries go through crucial processes of decarbonization, he asked. Indeed, total greenhouse gas emissions from livestock per year amounts to 7.1 billion tons, and much of that is methane, whose comparative impact on climate change is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide.  

Dr. Suarez was flanked on stage by Senegalese Chef Pierre Thiam. Chef Thiam is not just a chef but an activist. He is passionate about learning from smallholder farmers and their food culture in his native Senegal, and communicating ways of reducing our ecological footprints through food. He recently visited the IFAD-supported Agricultural Value Chains Support Project (PAFA) in central Senegal, and shared his experiences with the audience. In his white chef coat, Thiam was busily preparing insect fritters, meal worms and cricket macarons throughout the lecture. 

But can introducing insects into our diets really help to offset meat consumption? You might be surprised to know that two billion people already eat insects regularly as a vital source of protein. And after sampling Thiam’s fritters, and gauging the audience’s reaction, the idea doesn’t seem so unbelievable.  

The environmental impact of raising cattle is substantial. The production of one kilogram of beef leads to one hundred times more emissions than one kilogram of edible insects. However, beyond thinking about insect-based food, the event prompted an exercise in thinking about things you can’t do, or are unwilling to do to reduce your individual carbon emissions. And why not.