It’s no secret that the food we eat creates a significant portion of our carbon footprint — about one third, in fact. Is there anything that you can do to lessen the impact of this footprint? You’d better believe it!
A recent review, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, ranked fresh foods based on how much greenhouse gas their production created, from farm to fork. The results may or may not surprise you, but hopefully, they will inspire you to make some dietary changes.
Red meat was found to be the most emissions-intensive food that we consume on a regular basis and unsurprisingly, field-grown vegetables were the least. It would take about 50 onions to produce 1 kilogram of greenhouse gas, for instance, but a mere 44 grams of beef — just over half of one USDA recommended serving — to produce the same amount.
Hopefully the following information will inspire you to make some dietary changes when cooking for yourself or eating out. We can nourish ourselves with good, wholesome food without hurting the planet. It’s time we realize this and act accordingly.
The research compiled 269 published life-cycle assessment studies on 168 varieties of produce, including fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, dairy, and livestock. In order to find out how much greenhouse gasses are produced during the production of these goods, they evaluated all activities that produce emissions, from farm to fork.
Activities include not only the obvious emissions created from tractors and transportation, but also those from fertilized soils, the plants and animals themselves, and animal waste gasses. The review could not account for emissions created after products reach the consumer, however, such as gasses produced during food preparation.
For non-ruminant (chicken and pork) and the ruminant (lamb and beef) livestock, the review covered processes such as breeding, feed production, fertilizer use, and farm energy consumption (i.e. heating, transport, slaughterhouse processing, and refrigeration during transportation and storage).
The main source of emissions for beef and lamb is methane. The methane is produced the fermentation process that bacteria feed off of in the stomachs of those animals. This gas is emitted through the waste produced by the animals. Methane contributes to a minimum of 50% of the greenhouse gasses for all ruminant animals.
When it comes to fish, species caught offshore via longline fishing fleets and trawlers have higher values because these methods consume much more fuel than coastal fishing fleets.
Below is a food pyramid showcasing how much of each product is needed to produce 1kg of greenhouse gas.
What Can You Do?
Obviously, the first and foremost thing that you can do to start reducing your carbon footprint right away is to drastically lessen your consumption of all meat and animal products. No one is suggesting you give them up entirely, but by making even a slight change, you can in turn make a huge difference. Consider trying out the Meatless Mondays initiative to start. This involves picking just one day a week to not consume any meat. This is an easy way to gradually transition toward eating more plant-based meals, and will allow you to begin learning what to cook in place of your usual meat-based meals. Going even just one day per week without eating meat will show you that there are lots of amazing vegan and vegetarian options to choose from and that you certainly will not be deprived by eating them.
The more you cut back, the more you will likely be able to afford getting ethically sourced meat and animal products. If you opt for the local options, you cut down the emissions that would otherwise be used to transport that meat, dairy, or eggs from the factory farms to your local supermarket.
Look into the Reducetarian movement. This is a program specifically designed to educate and assist those who are looking to cut back their meat and animal product consumption, but not necessarily quit it entirely. This can provide you with all the necessary tools you may need to make this transition as easy as possible.
Don’t Give Up Hope
It’s so easy to just brush these types of things off and think, “What’s the point? I alone can’t make a difference. It’s too difficult for me to make a transition, and if no one else does it, then what does it matter if I do?” If you find yourself thinking in this way, then you need to know that you make change in the world by BEing the CHANGE you wish to see. We must lead by example. We can’t wait around for everyone else to make a change, we must make that change ourselves. And if you’re worried that your family will never get on board, just remember, whoever is cooking holds the power. Most people assume they won’t like plant-based foods without even trying them. Start slow, and find what you like. You don’t even need to make a point of saying you are cooking a plant-based meal, just cook one up and serve it and see if there are any complaints. If anyone asks questions you can simply say, “We are doing what we can to help save the planet. We all must do our part!” You’d be surprised by how quickly kids will get on board with that logic.
It is up to us! For the planet.