The Carbon Footprint of Food

The Carbon Footprint Of Food

With the world becoming increasingly aware of the issues presented by climate change, we are all more conscious of how we travel, what we buy, and who we buy from. But are we keeping track of what we eat?

Did you know that food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions? Many different factors affect the carbon footprint of our food, which is why here at Climateq, we think it’s important to explain the carbon journey of your food and how you can make a difference to climate change with your diet.

What Factors Can Influence Your Food Carbon Footprint?

Despite common beliefs that transportation is responsible for the majority of food’s carbon footprint, there is a wide range of factors that are more influential on carbon emissions. Among the largest contributors to food-related emissions are land usage and farming, and how food is farmed and produced has a massive impact on its carbon footprint.

However, possibly the most important factor to consider in the carbon journey of food is what food you are eating. Dependent on the type of food, and how it is manufactured or produced, the carbon footprint of its lifespan can vary hugely. This variation can be seen in the below chart, published by Our World In Data.


Which Foods Impact Carbon Emissions?

From this chart, we can tell that animal-based foods generally tend to have a higher carbon footprint than plant-based foods. CO2 emissions from most plant-based products are often 10 to 50 times lower than those from animal-based products. This is because farming, transport, and packaging requirements are usually less demanding for these smaller products.

More specifically, red meats are especially bad for the environment, with beef generating one of the highest carbon footprints by far due to heavy farming and land-based emissions. We have ordered some of the key foods from highest to lowest, based on their carbon footprint:

HIGHEST

Beef - 60kg CO2e per kg

Cheese - 21kg CO2e per kg

Poultry - 6kg CO2e per kg

Fish (Farmed) - 5kg CO2e per kg

Bananas - 0.7kg CO2e per kg

Nuts - 0.3kg CO2e per kg

LOWEST

How Can You Reduce Your Diet’s Carbon Emissions?

One of the pieces of advice provided most often regarding sustainable living, is to source your food locally. While this does make a difference, it is by far not the largest factor in reducing your carbon footprint and can sometimes even backfire.

In fact, sometimes sourcing food locally can increase carbon emissions, especially when farmers force use energy-intensive production methods to grow foods out of season in the UK. Hospido et al. (2009) estimate that importing Spanish lettuce to the UK during winter months results in three to eight times lower emissions than producing it locally. So, it is important to do your research before purchasing something you think will make a difference.

The largest difference you can make in your diet to decrease your carbon footprint is by going ‘red meat and dairy-free’ (not totally meat-free) one day per week. This would achieve the same difference in carbon emission as having a diet with zero food miles. So why not give it a try!

Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

You can calculate your diet’s carbon footprint using the BBC’s carbon footprint calculator here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46459714

What did you score? Let us know!

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