Climate change and your lunch, is there a connection?

Tue, 15/01/13

The following interview by Ruvan de Alwis and Rachel Miller with Kati Timar first appeared in UN Special. 

What is Climate Friendly Food Lovers?

Climate Friendly Food Lovers (CFFL) is an initiative that was created to provide United Nations staff members in Geneva with the option of regularly enjoying a hot meal in their office cafeteria that is not only delicious and nutritious, but climate friendly. Currently, staff who eat a mostly plantbased diet are provided with few options.

The group meets monthly to exchange experiences and discuss green initiatives in United Nations cafeterias in Geneva and other duty stations with the intent to feature them on our homepage at
People are becoming more aware that what they choose to eat has environmental effects. By changing our eating habits from meat-based to plant-based diets, we can significantly lower the impact of our carbon footprint. For example, meat produced from livestock generates more CO2 greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) (approximately 18%) compared to its plant-produced counterparts; livestock also contribute towards land and water degradation.

What has been achieved so far and what are the plans for the future?

The first plant-based menu in Geneva was implemented in September 2011 by Eurest at the UNAIDS Red Ribbon Café, with a “Meat Free Day” on the last Thursday of every month and occasional climate friendly choices. However, it was at our request that DSR introduced a new plant-based menu called “VegetaLien” (vegan) in October 2012. This is available every Wednesday at DSR cafeterias in the Palais des Nations, Palais Wilson, Motta, and the Environmental House in Châtelaine. Staff in other Geneva- based organizations are also advocating for more climate friendly food, for example, in WHO, where negotiations are underway to include more sustainable meal options.
In addition, the cafeterias are offering food that is organic, seasonal and/or local. DSR had issued in January 2011 an informative flyer on vegetarianism and also allowed us to distribute and display our own flyer explaining the link between climate change and food choices.
The goal of CFFL is to ensure that hot, 100% plant-based options are available daily to staff in every UN cafeteria. We also would like these foods to be clearly marked with their applicable labels, such as “vegan” or “climate-friendly”, hoping that they would increase awareness and encourage people to make sustainable choices.

Why did you establish the group?

I am a UNISDR staff member. Our Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlstrom, reminded us on World Water Day 2012 that “we live in a world where clean, fresh drinking water is becoming increasingly scarce. It can take about 10 to 15 times more water to produce a kilo of meat than a kilo of wheat. By 2030 we will need at least 50% more food, 45% more energy and 30% more water.”
The environmental impacts from meat vs. plant-based diets are astonishing. For example, 1 kilogram of beef creates 27 kilograms of GHG emissions and 1 kilogram of cheese creates 13.5 kilograms; in comparison, 1 kilogram of lentils (a plant), emits only 0.9 kilograms!
In the broader context, in an average year a carnivore creates 2,190 kilograms of CO2 emissions, a vegetarian 1,220 kilograms, and a person with a completely plant-based diet only 190 kilograms! So as you can see, we have a huge opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint significantly by simply minding what we put on our plates.
On a personal level, I became a vegan after having watched the documentary Earthlings and realizing how much animals suffer in order for us to satisfy our tastebuds. Through the years, I have researched the negative health, social, and environmental aspects of animal products, and have learned how to turn my favorite foods into vegan versions. Simple little changes to our eating habits can make such a difference!

How can staff members get involved?

I firmly believe that if people are given the choice and the knowledge, they will opt for meals that are good for the environment. As such, I encourage UN staff members to join us at our monthly meetings and to partake a plant-based meal.
Our next meeting will be at the UNAIDS Red Ribbon Café on 31 January 2013.

Categories: Staff Engagement