When was the last time you sat down to eat, but began by calculating the carbon footprint of the food on your plate? While driving less and cutting back your electric bill are often mentioned as ways to minimize your personal contribution to climate change, environmentally conscientious eating can do so as well. Below are the five foods for which its production, transportation, and preparation produces the most greenhouse gas emissions of any other food. Each value corresponds to the emissions produced by one kilo of that food. The information is part of a report done by The Environmental Working Group. To read more about that report, click here.
1. Lamb – 39.2 kg of CO2
- Most of the carbon emitted in the production of lamb comes from their rearing. Their digestion, food, manure management, and general farm practices all contribute a lot to the overall footprint. Transportation is another large contributor. Roughly 50% of the lamb consumed in the United States is imported, considerably increasing the carbon produced in shipping the meat.
- Equivalent car miles: 91
2. Beef – 27 kg of CO2
- Like lamb, cattle rearing produces the majority of the emissions associated with eating beef. Cattle require a lot of land and water and produce a lot of methane. Livestock farming, in general, is thought to take up 20-50% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
- Equivalent car miles: 63
3. Cheese – 13.5 kg of CO2
- While only a small portion of the cheese we eat in the U.S. is actually imported, those emissions make up about half of the carbon footprint of cheese. The greenhouse gas emissions of the cattle whose milk is used also contributes to the overall carbon footprint.
- Equivalent car miles: 31
4. Pork – 12.1 kg of CO2
- Again, a large portion of pork’s environmental impact comes from raising the pigs. However, the manufacturing, transportation, and preparation of pork products also have a heavy environmental impact. Indeed, keeping and preparing pork at home contributes significantly to the food’s carbon footprint. This includes refrigeration, cooking, and the methane produced by discarded pork.
- Equivalent car miles: 28
5. Farmed Salmon – 11.9 kg of CO2
- Farmed salmon are bred in captivity, their habitat maintained artificially within large tanks. It is their production, therefore, that creates such a large carbon footprint. The feeding system, onsite fuel combustion, and general electricity consumption are all contributing factors. Data on the environmental impact of wild salmon consumption was not reported in this study.
- Equivalent car miles: 27.5
Overall, it can be said that meat, particularly from livestock, has the largest carbon footprint of the foods on our tables. Luckily, there are plenty of delicious substitutes to try with significantly smaller environmental impacts. For instance, a kilogram of beans and tofu both only produce 2 kg of CO2. Nuts are slightly higher at 2.3 kg, while lentils are responsible for only 0.9 kg of CO2 per kilo produced. Try substituting some of these foods into your diet, even if you are not quite ready to become full-out vegetarian. If this is the case, you may also find some helpful tips from this article on navigating meat eating in an environmentally-friendly way.