Low Carbon Foods
Article provided by Spain’s Organic Larder – Sibarita
Can a Low-Carbon Diet Help Us Solve Our Climate Problem?
The glaciers in Alaska are melting. The wildfire season in California is now longer than it has ever been. Rising sea levels in New York City are threatening to engulf lower Manhattan. The same can be said for Miami, New Orleans, and other cities across the globe. We’re in the middle of a global warming emergency. Even as we march, protest, and turn to reusable tote bags and metal straws, it seems that our efforts would be in vain in the face of climate deniers and the country’s reliance on carbon. Ecoanxiety is a term invented by the American Psychological Association to describe people’s feelings of “loss, helplessness, and anger” as a result of the disaster. However, there is at least one direction in which we can have a significant positive effect. We can reduce our meat intake.
Today, an increasing number of people are changing their eating habits not to better their own health but to improve the world’s health. This strategy, also known as the “low-carbon diet,” includes consuming less meat and dairy, eating more locally and seasonal products, and reducing packaging and food waste. Experts believe that by taking these steps, we will reduce our individual carbon footprints and, collectively, slow the rate of climate change. Jonathan Safran Foer claims that consuming a plant-based diet is “one of the four highest-impact things a person can do to tackle climate change” in his 2019 book We Are The Weather: Saving The Planet Begins At Breakfast. Avoiding air travel, not owning a vehicle, and having fewer children are the three others; therefore, diet may be the easiest change a person may make.
But Why Does Eating Meat Affect The Food System In The First Place?
There are four main causes, according to the New York Times: carbon is released into the environment as forests are cleared for livestock; cows, sheep, and goats emit methane when they digest their food; animal waste also releases methane; and fossil fuels are used to move food, run machines, and make fertiliser. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock emits 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions per year, approximately equaling emissions from trains, aircraft, vehicles, and ships. Animal products provide 18% of our calories and 37% of our nutrition, according to a 2019 report published in Science, but livestock consumes 83 percent of our farmland and produces nearly 60% of food emissions. Beef produces much more greenhouse gases than other animal products, with lamb, farmed crustaceans, cheese, and pork trailing closely behind. Meat, poultry, and eggs have a smaller effect than vegan foods like tofu and nuts, but they also have a large impact.
Animal food products have such a huge environmental effect that even small changes can make a major difference, particularly if implemented on a large scale. Although policy reforms – like a national carbon tax are certainly beneficial. Nina Gheihman, a Harvard University sociology PhD candidate whose thesis is about veganism and who works for the Fresh N’ Lean meal delivery service, said that we shouldn’t underestimate the collective influence of consumers’ food choices. She adds that this does not have to suggest a full ban on animal products.
“Right now, everybody is where they are on the [animal product consumption] continuum, and the goal is to reduce the consumption,” she says. “If 90% of people started consuming more vegan meals, it would have a much greater effect than if only a small percentage of people went vegan.” She goes on to say that cutting back on meat consumption is safer for the environment than moving to chicken: “Eating meat just two or three days a week would have a greater effect than replacing one meat with another and eating meat every day.”
Some millennials and Gen Z, on the other hand, are giving up meat entirely for the sake of the environment. After learning about the environmental effect, Natasha Jokic, 23, became a vegetarian in 2015. While studying Political Science in college and reading more and more about environmental pollution, she realised there was no real way to justify consuming meat. She started reducing her meat consumption without completely removing it but then had a realisation while eating a pork burrito. “I realised I didn’t enjoy it anymore, and I didn’t think it was right. Then I came to a halt.”
Dena Ogden, 36, of a small Washington town, has also chosen to avoid buying and eating beef unless she can get a burger at a friend’s BBQ. “There’s an old quote that goes, No one can do anything, but everyone can do something,” she says, “and my spouse and I both felt like this was one way we could contribute and reduce our footprint.” The switch was surprisingly simple: beef burgers were replaced with vegetarian patties, and turkey sausage was used instead of beef sausage, for example. “I can’t say I miss red meat consciously, but I think I’ll make an effort to find options for my favourite comfort foods, such as French dip sandwiches,” Ogden says.
There is an increasing understanding of the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. There is a growing field of businesses contributing to the solution, thanks to climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, 16, who famously inspired her entire family to go vegan and was named TIME magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year. Isabelle Steichen, co-founder and CEO of Lupii, a vegan food company, says the climate influenced her decision to go vegan. She says that after moving to the United States from France in 2013, she became acutely conscious of the size of animal agriculture in the United States relative to Europe and that going vegan made sense for “both the climate and animal ethics.” Steichen emphasises, however, that she does not want anyone to join her.
“Every deliberate decision and every small move matters,” she says. “One of the main reasons people abandon veganism is that they believe it is either everything or nothing.” For example, according to a 2014 survey of over 11,000 Americans, 84 percent of vegans and vegetarians abandon their diets. Steichen says, “But I don’t think it’s binary at all.” “Every consumer decision you make has an impact, and if we all cut out one animal-based meal a week, we can collectively make a big difference.”
Steichen makes an excellent point. Despite anecdotal reports from friends and influencers on the coasts who extol the virtues of veganism and vegetarianism, the number of vegans and vegetarians in the United States has scarcely changed since the late 1990s. Even as “vegan” options proliferate in supermarkets around the country and meatless Impossible burgers are available at Burger King, a Gallup poll released in 2018 found that only 5% of Americans claim to be vegetarians, down from 6% in 1999. According to the same study, only 3% of Americans say they are vegan, up from 2% in 2012.
Many people believe that reducing meat consumption is more practical than veganism, particularly because Western society (outside of major cities like London and Los Angeles) isn’t really set up for a fully plant-based diet. Happy Cow, a vegan and vegetarian version of Yelp, lists 164 vegan restaurants in London, but just two in Derby. The origin of your meat is also important; chicken from your neighbourhood farmer’s market has a lower carbon footprint than factory-farmed chicken delivered to a supermarket.
While you can definitely spend a lot of money on plant-based meat substitutes, vegan staples like tofu, lentils, beans, and grains are consistently less costly than meat, according to Gheihman. “Plant-based diets are probably the cheapest,” she says, “so if people consume more plant-based foods, they can afford higher-quality meat — they just can’t eat the meat three times a day.” In reality, low-income people in many cultures around the world eat a predominantly plant-based diet.
Of course, if you don’t have time to prepare a meal at home, finding low-cost vegan or vegetarian fast food can be challenging — a burger and fries at a vegan favourite in New York and London. The same meal from the McDonald’s savers menu is slightly more costly. Plant-based meals like rice and beans, lentil stew, or tofu and veggie stir-fry can be less costly than meat-based meals if you’re going to the store and have time to prepare. This isn’t an all-or-nothing case, either. It’s a good chance to pack a peanut butter sandwich for lunch instead of buying a beef burger.
The rise of animal product alternatives, such as plant-based milks and meat substitutes, encourages advocates of a low-carbon diet. According to Beyond Meat’s spokesperson, which mentions climate change as one of four key factors in its mission statement, its target consumer is the “conflicted carnivore.” “We want to offer customers the option of continuing to eat the foods they enjoy in a way that is healthier for their health and the environment. We’re not suggesting, ‘Don’t eat meat,’ but we’re attempting to provide an alternative.” Dean Foods, America’s largest milk producer, recently declared bankruptcy, citing a “accelerated downturn in the traditional white milk category” — suggesting that dairy milk sales have declined as plant-based milks have increased in popularity. “It happened because people stopped buying the product,” Steichen explains. “That, to me, is evidence that what you do on an individual level matters a lot. You have a lot of leverage because you’re the one who buys the stuff at the end of the day.”
There are also certain dietary adjustments you can consider that have little to do with meat. Bon Appetit Management Firm, a restaurant company, initiated a Low Carbon Diet campaign in 2007 to reduce the foodservice industry’s exposure to climate change. Their “five staples of a low-carbon diet” are:
- Don’t waste food.
- Make “seasonal and regional” your food mantra.
- Avoid beef and cheese.
- Don’t buy food that has been air-freighted.
- Avoid refined and frozen foods.
Purchasing seasonal foods from local vendors reduces transportation emissions, such as those generated by flying grapes from Chile to the United States. Reducing packaging reduces the amount of waste you send to the dump and reduces the amount of energy it takes to make the packaging in the first place. Finally, processed foods require more energy to produce, such as those containing high-fructose corn syrup.
These changes will add dollars to your grocery bill and thus may not be feasible for all, but as milk and meat substitutes become more widely available (read: less expensive), they will become more affordable. When the consequences of climate change begin to affect our daily lives, we will all be forced to change our habits.
Changing their diet was one of the ways those interviewed here lowered their carbon footprint. In addition to avoiding red meat, Ogden’s family recycles, shops secondhand, and plans to replace their car with an electric vehicle in the future; Steichen composts; and Jokic avoids single-use plastics. Many of these improvements, once again, necessitate time or money — a reusable water bottle is more costly than a disposable one, and visiting a local recycling centre, or compost drop-off often necessitates carving out an hour of your weekend. While it might be more daunting for some than others, the vast majority of us will help the world. “Everyone has not only the potential but also the obligation to reduce their carbon footprint,” says Gheihman. And just by choosing one meal over another three times a day, you can make a difference.“
How To Eat Low Carbon In Four Simple Steps
In recent years, I’ve become increasingly conscious of agriculture’s negative effect on the climate. Food output is now thought to account for around a third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. I decided to see what I could do to help reduce this carbon footprint. After studying various diets and foods, I realised that how and what you consume could significantly affect carbon emissions reduction.
After years of pursuing a low-carbohydrate diet, I feel I have a pretty good understanding of what constitutes a “low carbon” meal. In this post, I’ll share what I’ve learned and offer four basic tips for reducing your dinner plate’s footprint.
Preface: Eating Low Carbon Doesn’t Have To Be Boring!
You may believe that eating sustainably entails eating only plain bread and fasting for the majority of the day. You’re afraid you’ll have to give up all of your favourite flavours and become a hermit. But don’t worry, I’ve got some good news for you: consuming low-carbon foods is really very tasty! Low-carbon recipes are full of delicious seasonal vegetables, overflowing with flavour and a generous helping of your favourite carbs. Just take a look at some of the site’s most common low-carbon recipes:
Isn’t it fantastic? The complete list of recipes can be found here. Every dish is guaranteed to be low carbon, and each one contains a rundown of how much CO2 you saved from eating it. Continue reading to learn how to make all of your recipes low-carbon at home:
Eat Less Meat And Dairy To Help Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The first step in lowering your food emissions is to consume less meat or even eliminate it entirely. Livestock is, without a doubt, one of the most significant contributors to the agricultural carbon footprint. What is the reason for this? Meat processing is, to put it bluntly, inefficient. To raise, kill, and prepare an animal for consumption, a significant amount of energy and resources are expended. Take the following example to show how inefficient meat is: processing 100g of beef protein produces about 50 kg of GHG emissions. That’s around the same amount of waste as generating 12,500g of pea protein!
Dairy is a high-carbon food for the same purpose as meat is: the livestock that produces it is expensive to rear and raise. Around 11 kg of GHG emissions are produced when 100g of cheese protein is produced. This is roughly 5x worse than a tofu-based equivalent and 13x worse than a pulse-based equivalent. However, cheese has a higher GHG footprint than chicken, pork, and farmed fish, which may surprise you. Many people will profit from treating cheese as though it were beef.
Limiting your meat and dairy intake to a few meals per week, for example, will help you lower your carbon footprint. Make the majority of your meals plant-based, with meat and dairy reserved for around 2-3 nights each week. By reducing your meat intake in this way, you will cut your GHG emissions by about 21%.
Switching to less carbon-intensive meats is also helpful. Beef and lamb are often cited as the most polluting meats; instead, opt for chicken, pork, or fish. Changing your meat intake to less polluting livestock will reduce your GHG emissions by 20% on average. With a 27 percent reduction in GHG emissions, going pescatarian will save you another 7%. If you’re out at a restaurant and want to order meat but aren’t sure what’s the greenest choice, note that lighter meats pollute the environment less.
You will greatly reduce your carbon footprint by limiting the amount of meat and dairy you consume throughout the week. A plant-based diet is an excellent way to help the environment either in its majority or entirely. However, there are other things to consider if you want to reduce the pollution even further. I’ll go over the next.
Avoid Air-Freight At All Cost – Lower Your Carbon Footprint
Importing food from other countries is not as difficult as you would think. For most foods, transportation contributes only a small portion of the overall GHG effect. Nonetheless, the amount of “food miles” added after a commodity leaves the farm gate adds to incremental CO2 emissions. As a result, it’s best to eat as close to home as possible. However, this is not always the best option; for more information, see the next section.
The mode of transportation is more important than the distance travelled. The table below shows the most common modes of food transportation and their related CO2 emissions.
Mode CO2 per tonne transported a kilometre.
Air plane (air cargo) 602g
Modern lorry or truck 62g
Modern rail 22g
Modern ship (sea freight) 5-16g
By far, the worst offender is air freight. Shipping foods by air has a major impact on the final product, and therefore on your dinner plate. In the UK, for example, eating a 250g package of local asparagus in season has a carbon footprint of about 125g of GHG. However, consuming the same packet air-shipped from Chile would result in a 3.5kg GHG footprint. As a result, eating air-freighted asparagus has nearly twice the GHG effect as eating the same amount of British lamb!
Air Freight = Out of season locally or labelled as coming from overseas + short shelf life.
When it comes to air freight, the issue is that most suppliers/supermarkets do not indicate the mode of transport used when selling produce. So, how do you stay away from air-freighted food? I came up with the acronym OLOS to help you achieve an informed estimate:
Strawberries, sugar snap peas, onions, and lettuce are all food examples with a limited shelf life. The majority of air-freighted goods can be avoided if you obey the above guideline. However, eating seasonally is one way to stop them all together – we’ll go through this in more detail in the next segment.
Eat Seasonally – Reduce The Impacts of Climate Change
It was only recently that we became used to having a wide variety of foods available all year. For wealthier countries, the growth of global trade has brought unrestricted food abundance. In certain ways, this has been beneficial, but it has also caused us to lose sight of the link between our local agricultural calendar and our taste buds.
You will get the tastiest produce as well as the most environmentally friendly if you eat in season. Seasonal produce is far closer to home, so you won’t have to think about “food miles” or air freight (see the previous section). But, more significantly, it means you’ll avoid produce grown outside of season or under artificially re-created conditions.
Farmers grow ‘summer’ vegetables in heated greenhouses during the winter, under the stress of imported out-of-season products. This consumes a lot more resources than traditional processes. Generated in this manner, apparently harmless vegetables have some of the worst environmental credentials possible.
Take, for example, British organic tomatoes. Organic tomatoes, grown during the summer growing season, have a very low carbon footprint of 400g GHG per kg or around a tenth of the emissions needed to produce a British chicken’s equivalent weight. Buying organic on-the-vine cherry tomatoes in March, on the other hand, means they were grown in heated glasshouses, with a carbon footprint of 50kg GHG per kg. This is more than twice as much GHG per kilogramme as British beef, which has long been considered the most polluting meat.
You can avoid this issue by eating in season, having a strong preference for food that is grown naturally in your area. Produce that has been grown with the least amount of extra energy. Eating with the seasons is also highly satisfying and enjoyable. There are a number of excellent tools available for determining what is in season at any given time. You may use the seasonality table on this site to quickly determine whether or not a particular product is in season.
Reduce Your Food Waste
Every year, nearly 1.6 billion tonnes of food was thrown away, with households responsible for roughly 53% of this waste. Throwing food away isn’t just a waste of product; it’s also a waste of the resources it took to produce it. Food waste is thought to be responsible for 3.3 billion tonnes of GHG released into the atmosphere per year.
Food waste exacerbates the epidemic in our food supply chain. Farmers continue to produce much more food than we need. Consider how much less food would be made and how much less pollution if we consumed all of the food we bought.
You might think that throwing out a few mouldy carrots won’t make much of a difference to your carbon footprint, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s estimated that eliminating all avoidable waste from your diet will save you about 12% of your overall diet emissions in terms of GHGs. In other words, if you waste as little as possible for a week, you can save the same amount of GHG as driving 61 kilometres in a typical car manufactured in 2018. That’s not bad!
Planning your week’s meals is the best and most effective way to reduce food waste. The majority of food spoils result from being left in the cupboard or refrigerator for an extended period of time. Meal preparation helps you to shop strategically and fairly allocate products during the week. On a Sunday, I suggest sitting down and planning out the week’s meals. When doing this, make sure to check what you already have in the fridge or other perishables.
To summarise, if you want to consume as little carbon as possible, you should:
Reduce or exclude meat and dairy products from your diet. If you’re not able to give up meat entirely, consider moving to less carbon-intensive meats. Fish, chicken, and pork are among them (in order of best to worst). A low carb and high carb based diet is not good so you’ll need to add variety to your meals.
Avoid eating food that has been air-freighted and try to eat locally. To decide if a food has been air shipped, use the OLOS process or look out for the union jack on the label which informs you that the meat production took place in the UK and the meat is british.
Seasonal eating is significant. Adapt the palate and recipes as the year progresses. Above all, avoid out-of-season food that was grown locally; it was almost certainly produced in a heated greenhouse. Purchasing food grown in a heated greenhouse is worse for the environment than importing. Eating seasonally with
Plan your weekly meals to cut down on food waste. To use leftover food, go through your cupboards and refrigerator.
Article provided by Spain’s Organic Larder – Sibarita