You’re an animal rights activist and have participated in demonstrations by Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and other movements. How did you come to write a book about nutrition and climate protection?
I’ve been a vegan for two years. But initially that was for ethical reasons and had no connection to climate change. Then Fridays for Future became active in Münster, where I live. I was overwhelmed that so many people were demonstrating for climate protection. I’d never seen so many vegans in one place. But I soon realized that not everyone was a vegetarian or vegan. As I talked to more and more demonstrators, it became clear that the climate movement is underestimating the issue of nutrition. There’s a lack of awareness. That’s why I decided to write a book that explains the connections between how we eat and why global temperatures are rising.
How important is food for climate protection and where does it stand on the list of things we can do to help?
If we’re only considering how we can help as individuals, I’d say it tops the list. Food is something that each of us can change right away without making a big investment. Next on the list would be things like not flying, switching to green electricity, and choosing a sustainable bank. But not everyone can do those as easily.
What impact does food really have on the earth’s climate?
Studies come to different conclusions. One says that the animal industry is responsible for 51 percent of all greenhouse gases, another 14.5 percent, and another 18 percent.* The differences depend on whether their calculations include animal methane emissions, deforestation to create arable land, and other factors. The figures therefore vary considerably. What’s certain, however, is that food has a tangible impact.
What are the most important rules of climate-friendly eating?
My book presents a new food pyramid with three levels. The first level says that you should buy plant-based food if possible. If you do that, you’re already on the right track. The second level is to buy seasonal and regional food. The third level is conventional versus organic, which can also help you save money. Of course, plant-based food isn’t necessarily sustainable. For example, a meal consisting of frozen fried potatoes, avocados from Chile, and papayas is vegan but not at all climate-friendly. If you wanted to be sure, you’d have to research the exact emissions figures for each product. My book is a straightforward guide for everyday use.
How much responsibility do individual citizens have? Doesn’t the primary responsibility lie with governments?
Both are needed. Let’s say the German government bans meat. People would still find a way to procure schnitzel, whether on the black market or abroad. People need to realize on their own that eating less meat is important. Nevertheless, I wish the government was more proactive. Because if Germany’s domestic meat consumption declines while its meat production remains unchanged, its exports will simply increase. One simple step would be to increase taxes on animal products and reduce taxes on plant-based products. Currently, cow’s milk is much cheaper than oat milk. It doesn't have to be that way. Another useful policy would be to put upper limits on livestock holding. For example, a farm could be limited to the number of animals whose manure it can use on site as fertilizer. But policymakers aren’t taking many steps in the right direction. As an example, Julia Klöckner, Germany’s Minister of Agriculture, said recently: “Eating meat must not become a luxury.” This demonstrates that she hasn’t yet fully grasped the situation, despite the fact that the agriculture sector does less than any other toward the achievement of Germany and Europe’s climate targets. A lot still needs to happen.
What are you asking people in Germany and other countries to do? How much should they alter their eating habits?
The main objective is for the world to have far fewer farm animals. That will only happen if many people decide to become vegetarians or vegans. From a climate perspective alone, each person would have to eat 75 percent fewer animal products. That’s feasible for everyone and accords with the German Nutrition Society, which also recommends eating less meat. If everyone joins in, it could have a huge impact.
Do you practice what you preach?
I eat 100 percent plant-based products. So I definitely obey that rule. Buying seasonal and regional food takes a certain amount of effort. There a few things I absolutely refuse to buy, like avocados from Chile. I confess I don’t always buy organic. I’m still working on that.
Editor’s note: If you don’t speak German, here are three books in English with a similar purpose:
Rachel De Thample. More Veg, Less Meat: The Eco-friendly Way to Eat, with 150 Inspiring Flexitarian Recipes (Kyle Books, 2011).
Anna Lappé and Bill McKibben. Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It (Bloomsbury, 2011).
Mark Prescott. Food Is the Solution: What to Eat to Save the World: 80+ Recipes for a Greener Planet and a Healthier You (Flatiron Books, 2018).
*The studies are available at the following websites: