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If you think your waistline is the only thing being affected by your food choices, it is time to think again. In fact, many of the foods we eat everyday might be causing major damage to the planet.

The foods we buy represent a ton of energy and water that we never see as consumers. Looking at a small chocolate bar on a shelf, you only get a quick glimpse into the lifecycle that brought it to that store. Considering the process from farm to production and distribution, that seemingly tiny package proves to have a large environmental footprint.

Taking a deeper look into the lifecycle of some of the most environmentally destructive foods, we came up with a list of the top 10 offenders. By avoiding some of the most harmful foods, you can help limit your own environmental impact and protect the planet in the process.

1. Lamb

According to the Environmental Working Group, every four oz. of lamb consumed is equivalent to driving seven miles in your car.  That’s an average of about 20 kilograms of CO2 released into the atmosphere for every pound of lamb. Every 2 pounds of lamb produced requires 2,314 gallons of water.

 2. Beef

A close second to lamb, beef production releases the equivalent of driving about 6 ½ miles in your car for every four oz. consumed. It also requires over 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef.

 3. Corn

Cornfields span over 97 million acres in the US—about twice the size of New York State. American cornfields consume over 6 billon gallons of freshwater each year. On average, one acre of corn uses 60 gallons of fossil fuels in production and distribution—that’s more than it takes to fill up the average American car 5 times!

4. Soybeans

Soy’s impact on the environment comes from forest clearing. Forests act like carbon sinks, trapping carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. In Brazil, the area of forest cleared for soybean plantations is responsible for the release of over 473 million tons of carbon dioxide. Every 2 pounds of soybeans produced requires about 530 gallons of water, one bushel of soybeans weighs about 60 pounds.

5. Palm Oil

Palm oil is a vegetable oil that makes its way into about 50 percent of all consumer goods, so everything from margarine to shampoo to fuels. Deforestation related to palm oil is estimated to contribute more than 558 million metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere by 2020.

 6. Chocolate

Chocolate is a $50 billion industry. As such a powerhouse industry, cacao plantations are responsible for huge amounts of deforestation. A two-ounce bar of chocolate has a carbon footprint of 169grams. A footprint about four times its size. The water footprint of chocolate is about 24,000 liters per kilogram of chocolate.

 7. Sugar

According to the World Wildlife Fund, sugar cane production has caused a greater loss of biodiversity than any other crop on the planet. In Florida, the run-off of phosphorus from sugar cane fields is largely responsible for the decline of the Everglades. It can take up to 5,000 gallons of water to grow one acre of sugar cane.

8. Cheese

Considering the energy that is put into the cow that produces the dairy aside from actual production of cheese itself, there is a 1 to 9 ratio of kilograms cheese produced to kilograms of CO2 emissions. For imported cheese, this ratio shoots up to 1 to 19 to account for the carbon cost of air transport. And who doesn’t love an authentic Swiss cheese…

 9. Salmon

‘Farmed and Dangerous’: industrial salmon farming is considered the most destructive practice in aquaculture production systems. Most salmon is air shipped, bringing its total carbon footprint equivalent to driving your car three miles for every four oz consumed. The chemicals used to keep salmon ‘healthy’ are put directly into the water, allowing direct passage of antibiotics and pesticides into watersheds.

10. Eggs

In the U.S., egg farmers produce around 79 billion eggs per year.  The average 24 oz carton of eggs has a carbon footprint of 5 pounds. The average egg weighs two ounces and has a water footprint of 200 liters. Meaning a dozen eggs boasts a water footprint of 2,400 liters.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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97 comments on “Taking a Bite Out of the Environment: Top 10 Most Environmentally Destructive Foods”

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1 Years Ago

The problem with this is, yout forgot to mention that much of corn and around 76% of soybean production goes to feed livestock.
And also you didnt make a comparison between how much water/land per calorie each item consumes.

3 Years Ago

If you add the cow\'s cheese to the cattle cost, it would be #1. Moreover, you feature some per pound data, but overall, total pounds of meat, the water and carbon footprint of cattle far outweighs that of lamb.

To answer DAP\'s question, the differences are based on what is included in the data. Do they include the water footprint of the feed, the transportation, and other externalities or not? I have always seen over 2000 gallons for a pound of beef. The low number has to be only what the cow consumes directly in water.



David Alan Patten
4 Years Ago

How does this even make sense? Using water cost data I found on the internet, I figure it take $264 in water to produce one pound of beef. I also found many other websites which also state that it requires 2,400 gallons of water per pound, or more. The facts seem to be in order, but something is missing from the equation.

Beverly Slover
4 Years Ago

I will never eat an owl !

Sandra L. Pittaro Jossa
4 Years Ago

very interesting information!

John Burris
4 Years Ago

everything destroys the planet, we are a cancer on it. so either we can all give up and die or accept these facts. what we should really be looking into is ways to reverse our effects. something that counters what we do to make the eco system a self sustatining machine. according to this we all need to just quit eating apparently but figuring out a way to create more water, pull co2 out of the air and so on would do better than all the research into how crappy we are to this planet. just my opinion. article was interesting though! and by no means do i mean to belittle any research.

25 Aug 2014

This article obviously isn\'t trying to say "We should all just stop eating." It is suggesting that we limit our intake of what we eat to help the environment further. I hate to break it to you, but there\'s probably very little we can actually do to reverse any effects we\'ve had on our planet. I think we have to focus on preventing further damage, and like this article is suggesting, lessening the damage we\'ve already done by cutting back on the productions that are most costly to the environment. Just my 2 cents. :)

26 Aug 2014

Moving towards a whole foods plant based diet will go a long in conserving water and has a positive impact on the environment. It\'s a win, win as your physical health will improve as well as a decrease in pollution and inhumane treatment of animals kept in intensive farming practices. Check it out. Go vegan.

27 Aug 2014

While some of your points are things I think as well- we can certainly slow down deforestation or stop it altogether. It\'s a free service right there in front of us that we know can sequester carbon. The problem is in where we focus attention- and also, yes, diet. Changing ones diet in significant ways and knowing how your food is grown or where it is shipped from is helpful information. I hate seeing soybeans on here- as a vegan, it\'s a great protein source and can be so less destructive if it were not grown primarily as a food source for animals. I think the statistic I researched is that 90% of this crop goes to animal feed rather than directly to humans. (This is a thesis topic for me, so I\'m very interested in it).

Patricia Juanico
4 Years Ago

me fascinan las lechuzas!

Tiffany Burnham
4 Years Ago

:( oh this picture breaks my heart.

Jamie Joy Throgmorton
4 Years Ago


Jeffrey Arthur Watts
4 Years Ago

This article is biased and not completely accurate. Soybeans, an environmentally destructive food? Lets talk about why so much is used, it is used in more than our food production, it is used for so many other things, not just as a food product. If it were only used for human consumption, its effects would be significantly less.. Although there are some facts here, this article is also an appeal to emotion. Everything we consume has a carbon footprint, animal products the highest, but so does every single vegetable, grain and other plant we consume. Its almost as if it is saying we should be guilty for being alive and consuming.

Brent Blair
05 May 2014

So True

Emma of Zimt
10 May 2014


Just consume responsibly… look at the food chain we\'ve created. OUR BAD. Our very bad.

27 Aug 2014

Yes! I commented similarly….And am going to be starting thesis work for a graduate degree that tries to show/answer that very assumption in your comment "if it were used for human consumption it\'s effects would be significantly less". I totally believe this and think the driving factor for this crop is in meat demand. Meat products - beef and lamb as pointed out here definitely have the highest carbon footprint. Since meat demand and population growth are growing, especially in already heavily populated countries like China, and becoming more wealthy, their demand for the products we\'ve been consuming massively will grow as well. But these are the very things we can try to reduce use of, or at least bring attention to how they have driven anthropogenic climate change and resource depletion.

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