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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
‘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.
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.