Every so often a new study comes out reminding us just how big an impact food production has on the planet. One of the more recent efforts to quantify this estimated around a quarter of all man-made carbon emissions are associated with the food system.
As shocking as such numbers are, it is hard to make the connection between the scale of this impact and what you put in your mouth each day. To help with this challenge we’ve put together this short guide to three of the fastest ways you can slash your foodprint.
1. Eat Less Meat
It is well known that producing meat has a big carbon footprint. A kilogram of beef or lamb can result in thirty kilograms of carbon emissions. So even if meat only makes up a small share of your diet it can have a large impact on your food’s carbon footprint, what we’ll call your foodprint.
In a recent analysis comparing the foodprints of five different diets the average American was found to have a foodprint of 2.5 tonnes. Although beef accounted for just 6% of food energy it was responsible for a third of all food emissions. If you add other meats and dairy to the equation just a quarter of food energy consumed results in two thirds of emissions. Such is the carbon heavy nature of animal products.
Of the other diets analysed the meat lover was found to have a whopping 3.3 tonne foodprint, a vegetarian’s was 1.7 tonne and a vegan just 1.5 tonne. Perhaps most surprisingly by swapping red meat for chicken and fish cut the foodprint significantly to 1.9 tonnes.
Having a meatless Monday, meatless weekdays or better yet meatless life is perhaps the fastest and healthiest way to reduce your food’s carbon footprint.
2. Tackle Food Waste
About a tenth of all food produced in the world is wasted by consumers and a further quarter is lost at various points in the supply chain. Although food losses occur at a large scale around the world, the phenomenon of people throwing out edible food is mostly confined to wealthy countries.
In Northern America and Europe the average person wastes around 100 kg of edible food each year. In sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia the figure is just a tenth of this. Not only does wasted food have a large foodprint of its own, but for every two kilograms that is wasted a further kilogram is lost in the supply chain.
The most common reasons people waste food are letting it go out of date, throwing it out during cooking or serving themselves too much. Reducing foodwaste is a matter of common sense, ideas like better planning, good portions sizes and storing leftovers for later consumption.
If you’re looking for inspiration the UN has just launched a new campaign called Think Eat Save dedicated to reducing foodprints.
3. Ground Flying Food
Once you’ve looked at what you eat and how much you waste it is worth asking yourself how your food gets to you.
Many people will be familiar with the idea of reducing food miles, the distance that our food travels. But few people realise just what a difference the type of mile makes. Flying food creates roughly one hundred times more carbon than shipping it the same distance, and more than five times that of using a truck.
Confusingly, this doesn’t necessarily mean local food has lower emissions than imported food. Food grown locally but out of season can result in even greater emissions, due to the energy used to heat and light greenhouses. Out of season tomatoes are the classic example.
The best way to tackle food transport emissions is to eat more seasonal local food. This can cut food mile emissions while making sure it doesn’t backfire into further production emissions. Focusing on flying food is also a good tactic. Food that is air freighted tends to be relatively expensive for its weight, is perishable, and can’t be easily produced locally.
By thinking about what you eat, how much you waste and how it gets to you, you too can slash your foodprint.