Tag Archives: carbon footprint

Local vs vegan – which is better for the planet?

Many people advocate buying local as a way to reduce the greenhouse gases causing climate change. Buying from local or regional farmers who grow and raise your food, so that it doesn’t have to be shipped a long distance, saves the CO2 used in transportation, but in fact doing so only saves about 10 percent of the total greenhouse gases that are generated in growing and processing most of the food we eat, according to an expert who has analyzed where most of the climate impact of our food comes from.

It’s the kind of food that ends up on the truck that determines the carbon footprint, explains Sandra Noonan, the Chief Sustainability Officer of Just Salad, a restaurant chain, and it is one more reason to switch to a plant-based diet. Supporting local farmers is always a good idea, but it doesn’t have a huge impact on our carbon footprint, since most of the greenhouse gases generated in producing food happen earlier than the final step of trucking it to your local market or store.

More important from a sustainability point of view than how far it has travelled, is what the food actually is. The big advantage here goes to plant foods. One new report published by Stanford University says that by shifting away from meat and dairy, we could lower our climate impact by 68 percent.

Buying locally sourced beef is almost never going to be a better option than shifting to a plate of all vegetables, legumes, fruit, and whole grains. Locally raised beef is still worse for the environment than buying broccoli or lentils that was grown further away and had to be shipped across the country to your store, although of course, locally grown plant foods are best of all.

Now, companies like Just Salad and others are adding labels to ingredients and the food they serve up, that shows the environmental impact of our dish, how much CO2 was burned, and methane was released in the growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting of our food from soil to bowl and beyond. It’s here that consumers will see the big difference between plant foods and animal foods. Let’s hope these new labels will help encourage more people to switch to plant-based options.

Menu items labeled for their carbon footprint

At the COP26 conference, running from Oct 31 to Nov 12 in Glasgow, Scotland, every item on the food menu had its climate impact indicated.  The COP26 conference is promoted as having the goal of promoting a global response to the climate crisis.  While many commitments have been made by various countries participating, most people agree that their promises won’t be nearly enough to reach the goal of only a 1.5 degree increase in average global temperatures, and this was particularly evident in the case of their approach to food. 

One of the most impactful ways that this goal could be achieved is by eliminating the consumption of animal products, especially beef.  To that end, many organizations and demonstrators have been pushing for the conference to provide only plant-based food during the event, to demonstrate their acknowledgement that meat and other animal products are so devastating to the environment.  While the conference organizers weren’t willing to go that far, they did come up with a novel way to educate attendees on the impact of their food choices.

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Single biggest way to reduce your impact

Footprints - greenFollowing a plant-based diet can be the “single biggest way” to reduce your environmental impact on earth, a new study suggests. Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to 73%. Meanwhile, if everyone stopped eating these foods, they found that global farmland use could be reduced by 75%, an area equivalent to the size of the US, China, Australia and Europe combined. Not only would this result in a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions, it would also free up wild land lost to agriculture, one of the primary causes of mass wildlife extinction.

According to the authors, “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.” They also noted that it has a far bigger impact than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car, which would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The new study, published in the journal Science, is one of the most comprehensive analyses to date into the detrimental effects farming can have on the environment and included data on nearly 40,000 farms in 119 countries.

So if you consider yourself an environmentalist, but you still eat animal products, think again! Avoiding the consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.

Learn more about the impact of our food choices on the planet.