COMMENT:

I've spent a chunk of the past fortnight feeling a bit hopeless. It started with the grim report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which basically said we've got just 10 years for global leaders to take drastic action to stop the planet's average temperature from rising more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

There's not much commitment around the world to this. Whatever we do here in New Zealand - and we do need to do more - we can't save the world from here. The world's biggest contributors to emissions need to step up, which they seem disinclined to do. Which leaves the rest of us - and more importantly, our children - in a precarious position.

This was reinforced by another report in the journal Nature about climate change and food. Our environment is intrinsically linked to our food and our health - if we have a healthy planet, we'll have healthy people.

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But our global food systems are broken, the authors say - and again, drastic action is needed to fix them. If we don't make some fundamental changes by 2050 the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50-90 per cent, "reaching levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity". That's science speak for "We're in the s**t".

So what can we do? As with any big problem, there's no one solution. We need to address food waste, for example. Halving the one-third of the food we produce which is wasted would make a big difference, as would working on improvements in technologies to help us manage food production better.

Another big part of the puzzle - one meat-loving Kiwis may not be super-keen to hear - is changing, at a personal level, how we eat. The Nature report says moving to a more plant-based diet and eating less meat is something we need to do. That's because globally, the production of animal protein is inefficient, using large amounts of precious land and water, and all those animals also generate lots of methane.

Eating more plants is not only good for the planet, it's good for us, and it's a movement that's already got some momentum.

As I've said before, I consider myself a plant-based eater, even though I'm not vegetarian. We don't have to completely eliminate meat to be more planet-friendly (and healthy) in our eating; we just need to be a lot more considered. It comes back to the plate model: make half of every meal colourful vegetables and think of meat, if eaten, as garnish. We can do this at home, and our restaurants need to move this way, too.

If we collectively do nothing and we see the global food system in meltdown, I think we need to prepare for the added possibility - by no means unthinkable - of no more imported food. How do you feel about no more rice, chocolate or coffee? If, like me, that makes you a bit panicky, it's time for a food rethink.

Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide www.healthyfood.co.nz