Eat Green: Create a Lower-Carbon Diet

by in Food News, April 20, 2009


Experts say the biggest contributors to global warming are travel (our cars, planes and shipping needs) and electricity demands, but food production doesn’t tread lightly either. Food is responsible for one-third of global greenhouse emissions!

You may not fix the world’s problems by yourself, but making small changes and setting a good example can’t hurt — and what better time to start than Earth Week. Here’s what it means to go low carbon.

What do you mean “low carbon”?
There’s a lot of jargon in the eco-world (“carbon footprint,” “go green,” “climate change”) and throwing “low-carbon diet” into the mix just adds to it, we know. But hey, think of this as a new way of “cutting the carbs”! The idea is to reduce your direct effect on the environment by being mindful of how your actions — specifically your food choices — increase carbon dioxide emission and support dirty industries.

Food has an impact?
Yep, it does. According to a 2008 Carnegie Mellon study, 83% of carbon emissions came from the growth and production of food itself; 11% of that alone is from its transportation — a.k.a. “food miles,” which refers to moving food between the grower, seller and eventual consumer. Most low-carbon diet advocates endorse eating local foods to reduce “food miles” (so hit up your farmers’ market), but choosing different foods can also have an effect.

One example is cutting down on meat. Don’t worry — we’re not saying we all should be vegan; just try limiting it more. Production of livestock such as cows and sheep accounts for 18% of the world’s total greenhouse gases according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Even President Obama has promoted “Meatless Mondays” in the White House as a way to help out. And don’t forget that milk and other dairy counts in this, too.

Factor your own food footprint
You might be skeptical of how much you alone can do, but it’s still interesting to look into. I enjoyed figuring out my carbon emissions using this interactive calculator from Eatlowcarbon.org. According to it, a chicken sandwich is much better for the environment than a tofu curry (massive soybean production is problematic), and a bowl of lentil soup is beneficial to my body and the environment. Yes, it can get confusing — or even frustrating — to keep track of what’s okay and what’s not, but doing a little here or there is a good start.

This is only some basic info to introduce the idea of low-carbon eating. If you want to learn more, check out this article from Environmental Science & Technology or this background info from Circleofresponsiblity.org.

TELL US: How important is eating greener to you?

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