China consumes more meat than any other country and accounts for half the world’s consumption of pork, which is used in everything from dumplings and stir-fries to hotpots.
That has helped make it the world’s biggest emitter of climate-warming greenhouse gases – according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), livestock are responsible for about 14.5 percent of global emissions.
“Chinese emissions can be reduced by almost 10 per cent in the next decade if Chinese people just ate half as much meat,” said Jen Leung, China climate director at the U.S.-based charity WildAid.
“So just try eating a little less pork in honour of a healthy Year of the Pig,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Twelve animals make up the traditional Chinese zodiac and this week marks the transition from year of the dog to year of the pig.
The week-long holiday starts on starts on Monday, the eve of the new year, and is the most important in the Chinese calendar, when millions of people travel home.
Many restaurants have special menus to mark the festival, which is celebrated by Chinese communities around the world.
In Hong Kong, famous for its dim sum and barbeque pork, one company is partnering with restaurants to promote Lunar New Year dishes cooked with its “vegan pork” made with ingredients including soybeans and peas.
“Traditional belief dictates that we should not eat the same animal during their year in order to bring good luck – so pig year don’t eat pork,” said Alvin Lee, marketing manager at Green Monday, a social enterprise that promotes sustainable living.
“But more importantly it’s to address the issue of food safety and to mitigate climate change,” he said, referring to a recent outbreak of deadly African swine fever on pig farms in China.
On Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, animal rights group PETA has launched a campaign to honour the “playful” animal with the hashtag #PigYearDontEatThem.
“Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation systems combined,” PETA Asia campaigner Jason Baker said.
China issued dietary guidelines in 2016 recommending people halve their meat consumption – a move lauded by environmentalists as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions as well as boosting public health.
Experts said people were unlikely to give up on their pork dumplings any time soon in China, where meat is still associated with wealth and status.
“It’s quite challenging because culturally there are quite a lot of values attached to being able to eat meat,” Beau Damen, an expert on climate change at the FAO in Bangkok, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But one thing consumers do have to keep in mind is that choices about what we eat do have a direct impact on the environment,” he warned.