Cutting Carbon From Your Vegetarian Diet

Cutting Carbon From Your Vegetarian Diet

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Eating your greens is without doubt one of the best things you are able to do on your physique and for the atmosphere.

Our diets account for 14% of household carbon emissions, and meat is answerable for greater than half of the common American’s foodprint – so any meal that emphasizes greens over animal protein is an environmental win. But some vegetarian meals have surprisingly critical environmental impacts.

Don’t step away from that salad – even vegetarians can lower carbon from their eating regimen.

Processed and Pricey Foods

You can count on processed meals to have extra local weather impacts than uncooked produce. That’s merely due to the vitality used to fabricate the product after the elements are grown.

The worth of some costly meals displays a posh manufacturing course of with a prolonged provide chain that crosses continents. For instance, the BBC’s climate calculator confirms that the impression of wine is greater than double that of grapes. But sadly, there doesn’t appear to be good knowledge on the relative impacts of different widespread vegetarian meals like protein bars or fruit leathers.

Until footprint labels turn out to be as widespread as diet labels, we must estimate most of our meals’ impacts based mostly on their main elements. But some vegetarian meals have vital identified carbon impacts. Cheese, chocolate, and low all produce extra local weather emissions than pork or poultry and produce other vital environmental results as properly.

Vegetarians can eat food like coffee and chocolate -- but their carbon footprint rates high.
If you assume espresso and chocolate are an ideal mixture, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, they each produce extra emissions than pork and poultry. Image: 5598375 from Pixabay

Cheese, after all, is a part of the identical intensive dairy system as milk. Chocolate has been linked to slavery and has vital deforestation impacts, in addition to extremely polluting farming practices. Fortunately, some chocolate producers apply fair trade and comply with more sustainable practices. Coffee is well-known for harmful land-use adjustments and chemically intensive rising strategies. Like chocolate, conscientious shoppers can discover more sustainable and less wasteful choices for his or her morning cuppa.

Greenhouse gas impact of various food types
Source: Visual Capitalist


If you’re standing within the produce aisle deciding what to purchase, you is perhaps contemplating freshness, diet, style, natural labeling, and supporting native farmers. And you must contemplate different environmental issues, like whether or not the zucchini is GMO or the avocados destroyed butterfly habitat. But carbon emissions most likely don’t must be a deciding issue.

According to a 2014 study of fruit and veggies, most produce generates lower than 2 CO2-eq per kilogram of meals. That’s lower than a 3rd the local weather emissions of pork and one-tenth the local weather emissions of cheese.

Graph showing carbon emissions for common fruits and vegetables
Image supply: National Geographic

But observe one vital exception: asparagus. Asparagus has a better local weather impression per pound than pork. And its impression is greater than six instances that of the subsequent highest vegetable within the examine. How can one inexperienced be so intensive? The reply is within the sky.

Air Transport

In normal, meals manufacturing strategies account for extra emissions than the gap meals travels from farm to market. It is true that transport provides to the emissions impression of meals. But it’s often not vital relative to the emissions generated by standard farming practices – even when meals is transported by refrigerated vans, that are a lot more polluting than cargo ships or rail. One life cycle analysis discovered that transporting meals to market generated solely 4% of meals’s local weather impression.

But there’s one very vital exception: air-freight. Although only some meals are air-freighted, these meals emit 50 times more local weather emissions than meals that’s shipped by boat.

Unfortunately, it may be onerous for shoppers to establish these meals. No labeling system accounts for the mode of journey by which an merchandise reaches the grocery retailer. This is the place buying local turns into necessary. Since produce typically has country-of-origin labels, avoiding perishable meals which have traveled a good distance is an effective rule of thumb for avoiding air-freight emissions. Asparagus, bell peppers, inexperienced beans, cherries, and berries are widespread air-travel culprits.

fresh berries on display in market
Tempted by out-of-season berries? They might need an enormous transport carbon footprint. Image by Couleur from Pixabay

If a sort of meals is completely out of season the place you reside, it might need been grown in a greenhouse (which additionally makes use of a variety of vitality and chemical compounds). But there’s a good probability that it grew half a world away and traveled by air to succeed in the market whereas nonetheless recent.

The Seasonal Food Guide app outlines the seasonality of produce state-by-state, so you may inform what fruit and veggies are in season (and thus is perhaps grown domestically) if you end up buying. And after all, it’s also possible to grow your own produce to reduce the gap from the plant to the plate.

This article was initially revealed on August 28, 2020.

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