What Is the Carbon Footprint of Food and Which Have the Highest Values?

When we are choosing a meal or opting for a specific diet to follow, we often tend to ignore the impact it can have on the environment. Food production, as well as breeding livestock, increase the quantity of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. This is why it’s important to know the carbon footprint of food and choose the best strategies to reduce it.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Food?

A carbon footprint includes all the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere as a result of certain activities. Therefore, the carbon footprint of food contains the gases released by food production. Growing plants, breeding livestock, farming, harvesting, and producing the food contributes to these emissions.

Also, even transporting these products and then disposing of them can have an impact on the environment. Therefore, we need to be really careful with how we handle them. Food seems to have one of the biggest carbon footprints in the world, with about 8 tons of gases released by one single household.

Which Foods Have the Biggest Carbon Footprint?

If you want to reduce the carbon footprint of food in your household, you need to know which products have the highest values. This way, you can either reduce your consumption of those products or maybe switch to a whole new diet. Here are the foods with the biggest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

1.      Lamb

The top of the list is owned by lamb, with 39.2 kg of carbon dioxide per emission. This is a lot, as it corresponds to going for a 90-mile drive. Quite a big part of the emissions can be blamed on imports since half of the lamb meat we eat in the US comes from different countries. Therefore, its transport increases the carbon footprint of the food.

However, most of it is the fault of the animals’ digestion. Their food isn’t too eco-friendly either, just like all the other activities associated with lamb breeding. Therefore, if you’re a lamb meat lover, we have bad news for you.

2.      Beef

Everyone knows that beef also contributes to the massive values of the carbon footprint of food, with 27 kg of carbon dioxide. While they are not as dangerous as lambs, cows are still the main producers of methane, one of the strongest greenhouse gases out there. However, tending to these animals is also resource-consuming.

3.      Cheese

If you thought only meat contributes to the carbon footprint of food, you were wrong. The third place is occupied by cheese, with 13.5 kg of carbon dioxide. Its production is incredibly pollutant while storing it and then disposing of the leftovers can also increase greenhouse gas emissions. While most of our cheese is produced in the US, we still get some imports as well.

Sticking a fork in a piece of bacon, carbon footprint of food

4.      Pork

Ham and bacon are a bad meal choice if you want to be eco-friendly. Pork usually produces 12.1 kg of carbon dioxide on average, and most of these emissions come from raising pigs. However, all the other activities contribute to its carbon footprint. Processing the meat is quite pollutant, but also preparing it at home.

5.      Farmed Salmon

Fish also made this list, with farmed salmon and emissions of 11.9 kg of carbon dioxide. The statistics involve only bred specimens, as the activity consumes a lot of fuel and electricity. However, all these figures are only about farmed salmon. The measurements are unclear for wild catches.

Other foods with a high carbon footprint include turkey, chicken, tuna, eggs, and potatoes. Usually, any kind of meat increases greenhouse gas emissions, as well as cheese and animal products in general. On the other hand, some foods with low carbon footprints are vegetables, fruits, nuts, or beans.

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Knowing of the carbon footprint of food should help you make better decisions regarding your diet. Here is some advice to follow if you really care about the environment and want to reduce your carbon footprint.

Eat Vegetarian

From all the agricultural and industrial activities out there, the breeding of livestock has the biggest carbon footprint. Up to half of all greenhouse gas emissions produced by humans come from this activity. One first step might be to cut all red meats from your diet, or at least only lamb and beef.

If you want to go one step further, you can switch to a vegetarian diet. The carbon footprint it produces measures about 50 percent of that of a diet rich in meat. However, the best choice of all is to go vegan. Eating like that produces the smallest carbon footprint out there, so it brings a huge contribution to the well-being of our environment.

Pay Attention to How You Cook

Instead of buying food that is already prepared, you can cook your own meals at home. This allows you to reuse leftovers and make better use of your waste. You can even build a compost pile that will later nourish your garden.

Also, your cooking methods can influence the carbon footprint of food. Of course, you produce the smallest amount of carbon dioxide by eating raw. If you still need to cook, then you can be careful with how to use the oven. Heat your food in a microwave, boil water in electric kettles, and cook more foods at the same time to cut the emissions.

Shop for Groceries Locally

Organic food has a significantly lower carbon footprint than the imported one. Therefore, always choose local grocery stores and markets. If you cannot only buy fresh produce, pay attention to all the other products. Check the labels for potentially dangerous ingredients and avoid frozen or canned food. The latter are among those products with huge carbon footprints.

Summing Up

Being aware of the carbon footprint of food is more than essential. Agriculture, livestock breeding, as well as the processing of food contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, affecting both our lives and the environment. Since you cannot avoid these emissions completely, you can still reduce your carbon footprint.

By eating healthy, consuming less meat, and buying local products, you will definitely bring a positive impact on nature. It might take a while until we will see great changes but, if we all make small efforts, we will eventually manage to change something.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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