Food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming, according to a University of Oxford study published in 2018. (Source: http://www.ox.ac.uk). However, the researchers found that the environmental impact of different foods varies hugely.
Many of us have cut down on using plastic bags and plastic straws, recycle where possible and have turned our heating down a degree or two. But have you considered how your weekly shop can change the world?
Meat and Fish
Most people eat beef several times a week. Think of the average weekday dinner which might be grilled chicken breasts, sausages, burgers, spaghetti Bolognese, chilli etc.
Professor Berners-Lee, who specialises in climate change and sustainable food systems says: “I’m afraid to say that beef is the world’s highest carbon meat of them all.” He says chicken is better for the environment, but adds “it’s still true to say that all meats are a less efficient way of doing agriculture than humans eating plant-based food.”
Fish has the lowest carbon footprint but Professor Berners-Lee suggests asking a fishmonger for a sustainable variety and limiting fish to one or two small portions a week.
While we might not be keen on being vegetarian, cutting down is a great start. Going meat-free just one day a week can have a huge impact. Research published in 2018 showed that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture would be reduced by more than a half if we all only ate one portion of red meat a week.
Fruit and vegetables
“Fruit and vegetables are almost always good sustainable foods”, says Professor Berners-Lee.
However, there are some exceptions. If a piece of fruit or a vegetable is out of season you have to ask yourself how did it get here? If it looks like it has a good robust skin on it like a pineapple or apple or an orange or banana, then it will have gone on a boat which is much cheaper and it has about a hundredth of the carbon footprint of putting it on an aeroplane which burns through hundreds of tonnes of fuel for one flight.
If you can’t be without strawberries or raspberries in winter, then Professor Berners-Lee says the best thing we can do is buy them frozen. Sometimes people think that’s a really high carbon footprint because of the refrigeration but it turns out not to be a big issue.
Interestingly different forms of the same vegetable can have a huge difference in footprint. For example, tender stem broccoli is not the same as regular broccoli and it has a high carbon footprint as it will have been air freighted in, usually from Kenya. Professor Mike Berners-Lee’s golden rules:
- For the biggest impact, eat less meat and dairy. It’s the least efficient way to take on protein and causes the bulk of food’s carbon footprint. If you don’t want to go totally meat-free, choose sustainable non-farmed fish and chicken over lamb and beef;
- Eat everything you buy. Check your fridge before you go shopping and don’t be tempted by cheap deals;
- The more fruit and veg you eat, the better, but just make sure if it’s not in season, it’s robust enough to have arrived by boat and don’t be put off buying frozen too.
What we’re being told about putting measures in place to eat the right foods in the right season is not new. Growing up, I remember being told the exact same thing.
On the consumer’s part, we must listen to the experts. We must all reduce our carbon footprint, including reducing our intake on foods such as meat and dairy. It is important we look at plant based foods, as an alternative to eating animals. I absolutely agree with Professor Mike Berners-Lee says, the author to this report.
It is vital we all follow the ‘golden rules’ on climate friendly foods, for the sake of future generations and the environment.