This article was originally published on The Jakarta Post.
Three youths from Myanmar were awarded first prize at the United Nations Global Pulse Lab’s Big Ideas competition for climate action this year. They developed an app 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 diets from resource-intensive animal proteins such as beef, to environmentally friendly proteins such as insects to mitigate climate change.
In fact, shifting our diets is inevitable. WRI’s study suggested that on average, a person consumed one-third more protein than the daily adult requirement.
The study further suggested that if populations that overconsumed animal proteins reduced their intake, we could spare agricultural land roughly two times the size of India and avoid greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
While shifting diets is necessary, sustainable eating goes beyond a diet shift and challenges vary across regions. In Indonesia, statistics from the 2016 national survey suggested that Indonesians consumed 2,037 kilocalories and 56.67 grams of protein on a daily basis, lower than the daily dietary requirement listed in Health Ministerial Regulation No. 75/2013.
This fact is in contrast to the supply side, where Indonesia has already produced twice the recommended requirement of energy and protein sources. 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 agricultural resource use and exacerbate environmental problems but also hamper efforts to provide sufficient food for all communities.
To address this problem, the youth have 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 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 fell under the 30-year-old segment.
With such a population 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, making the youth an integral part of finding a solution to food security and environmental protection.
First, the youth need to be intrinsically motivated to promote sustainable eating. From the high schoolers in Myanmar encouraging people to shift to insects, to the youth in the United States shaping the future of sustainable food as a grower, advocate, and cook, youth leadership is on the rise.
To address the high prevalence of food waste among the youth in Indonesia, the 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 a sustainable and healthy diet through early intervention 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 studies has 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 determinants of eating habits in children and adolescents. This means that education on healthy and sustainable eating should also be targeted at 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 toward locally sourced food is necessary as they can offer great advantages in terms of nutrition, availability and sustainability.
On top of plant-based proteins such as cereals, tofu and tempeh, in Gunung Kidul, Java, for instance, people eat grasshoppers as source of protein. In Papua, roasted sago caterpillar is a much enjoyed food. Some people in Java consume laron (white ant). In fact, insects have been proposed by scientists to be a solution to the problems surrounding 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 beef protein results in 2,850-g of GHG emissions, while producing 1-kg of protein from crickets only generates 1-g of GHG emissions.
That said, sustainable eating will not last without structural intervention by the government. Sustainable eating is about behavioral changes that have to be accompanied by a robust policy to actually create the market for the habit to sustain.
For instance, populations will not be able to systematically shift diets if the cost of the proposed alternative foods 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 diets and sustainable eating in fact requires dramatic, structural and mindset changes.
As the Myanmar teenagers believe in their award-winning app to mitigate climate change, we need to start now.