We all have to eat, that’s for sure, and most of us do enjoy it. If you have ever fasted for a while, you probably know this: a lot of our eating is pure habit. We cook and eat in a certain way, and often we don’t even really think about it. But things are changing. We are more and more aware of what we eat and what it does to ourselves, other creatures and our planet. You probably already try to eat healthily and want to consider animal wellbeing. But there is another thing to take into account: the carbon footprint of your diet.
What you eat and drink causes a large part of your carbon emissions. Carbon emissions from food are, for example, responsible for 21% of Dutch household emissions. This is a solid indicator for developed countries in general.
As you can see, your diet causes one-fifth of total emissions. Only our shopping habits cause even more emissions. The good news is that there is a lot of room for improvement since what we eat makes such a big difference.
Of course, the above figures are on average and are not helpful in calculating the emissions for your personal situation. Depending on your diet type, your CO₂ footprint may differ a lot from the figures above. Are you a meat-eater, vegetarian or vegan? You will be surprised how much of a difference this can make.
What you eat matters much more than where your food comes from Let us set one thing straight first: there is every reason to ‘eat local’ and get your food from nearby. But if you want to reduce your carbon footprint, don’t start there. Though food shipping does contribute to emissions, emissions for food production are the real culprit here. The same goes for food from biological sources: biologically farmed foods do not have a lower carbon footprint. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how the average steak or carrot contributes to climate change.
We all have to eat. And eating causes carbon emissions. There is no way to prevent that yet. We definitely have to work on making the whole food chain more sustainable. But, changing what we eat is a great place to start.
Back in 2005, Shrink That Footprint assessed the carbon footprint of five different diet types in the US. The study is 16 years old and has its flaws, but it is the best we’ve come across so far. For each diet, they calculated the average carbon footprint per year:
As you can see, it matters a lot if you enjoy a daily meaty treat or if you prefer to leave out animal products altogether. But cutting beef out of your diet might be the first and easiest way to bring down your food-related emissions by 25-50%. Is replacing your Black Angus burger (yes, I know…) for a chicken-and-bacon burger too high a price to pay?
The calculations above will do in most cases. It allows you to make a rough estimate of your food-related emissions. But it is still a rough estimate.
However, you might want to know the emissions for your personal diet instead of a diet in general. And, if you change your diet, it would be great to know the impact of the alternatives. For instance, for the sake of fighting climate change, is it a good idea to replace my chicken intake with cheese? Well, from both a health and carbon emissions perspective, that might not be your best option. On the contrary: replacing your chicken with cheese will only make your carbon footprint bigger! Take a look at the chart below:
So, great, now you know what you can change. But how exactly can you change? Swapping one burger for the other one time does not constitute change. But what does? In general: changing your behaviour is always difficult, but there are many things you can do to help yourself. Read our blog on new beginnings to get some expert advice from an ancient legend.
What really helps is the support of others. Feel free to join the Scone community for insights into your footprint, tips on how to improve, a community to help you do so, and fun challenges to make it easier.