Balancing Health & Climate Concerns in the Japanese Diet

by Ella

In an era where calorie counts grace restaurant menus to cater to the health-conscious, Masaka, a vegan eatery in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, took a unique approach in December. Their lunch menu not only highlighted nutritional information but also quantified the carbon dioxide emission reductions achieved by opting for vegan alternatives over meat-based dishes.

The vegan fried chicken set, rice, and soup, for instance, demonstrated a 20.2% cut in emissions compared to its meat-based counterpart. Similarly, the gyōza dumpling combo showcased a 14.5% reduction, while the mapo tofu set excelled with a 25.7% decrease in emissions.


Bird Feather Nob, the company behind Masaka, conducted this initiative in collaboration with data consultancy Metrika and the climate action group Quisine. A survey of over 110 patrons revealed that over 90% supported this transparency, indicating a positive response to linking everyday meals with environmental impact.


Global Awareness and COP28 Initiatives:

The global recognition of food and agriculture’s significant contribution to climate change was underscored during December’s COP climate conference. A dedicated day focused on the food system’s impact on global warming, emphasizing the urgency to transform it. A declaration on sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems, and climate action garnered support from 159 countries.


The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also unveiled a roadmap for achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of “zero hunger” without exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. This initiative aims to provide regional and country-level action plans over the next two years.


The Japanese Diet: An Intersection of Health and Emissions:

As food and agriculture’s role in climate change gains prominence, the Japanese diet comes under scrutiny. While rich in traditional plant-based foods like tofu and miso, defining the Japanese diet proves challenging due to its constant evolution and incorporation of foreign culinary influences.

Research shows that a plant-rich, balanced diet with lower meat consumption is healthier and eco-friendly. However, in Japan, where per capita beef consumption is lower than the OECD average, complexities arise. Contrary to Western diets, an analysis indicates that emission-intensive diets tend to be healthier in Japan, posing a conundrum for those seeking the optimum balance.

Improving the Japanese Diet: A Delicate Balance:

Minami Sugimoto, assistant professor of nutritional epidemiology at Toho University, suggests adjustments for a more sustainable Japanese diet. Increasing whole grain intake and reducing beef and pork consumption can achieve a 10% cut in emissions while addressing nutritional needs. However, these changes are considered a preliminary step, with more significant reductions requiring more drastic dietary shifts.

Mei Makinouchi from the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute emphasizes the need for information to aid sustainable choices. Labeling products based on their environmental impact could empower consumers to make informed decisions. While a survey indicates a growing inclination toward environmentally friendly choices, efforts to certify products with low carbon footprints, like the CFP mark and Decarbo Score mark, are gaining traction.

Rethinking Rice Production and Methane Emissions:

Rice, a staple in the Japanese diet, contributes to methane emissions in agriculture. While Japan’s methane emissions are relatively low compared to the U.S., rice production and livestock farming remain substantial contributors. Efforts to reduce methane emissions by adjusting water withdrawal periods in rice paddies have shown promise, with certified initiatives recognized under the J-Credit program.

Makinouchi advocates broader recognition of such efforts, emphasizing the importance of certification systems in promoting low-emission choices. Recognizing and encouraging sustainable practices in rice production could play a vital role in shaping a more eco-conscious Japanese diet.

In conclusion, the intersection of health and climate concerns in the Japanese diet underscores the need for informed choices and sustainable practices. Initiatives like those at Masaka serve as catalysts for a broader conversation, urging consumers, businesses, and policymakers to navigate this delicate nexus for a healthier, more sustainable future.



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