Foods With High Carbon Footprints To Avoid

Have you ever thought, while taking a bite out of your hamburger or salmon, about the journey it took to reach your plate? Or how it affects the environment on its way to you? Perhaps you should. Climate change is becoming a reality, and agriculture is a major producer of heat-trapping greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide.

There are several options to lower your carbon footprint, including driving less, reducing trash, and reusing plastic. Similarly, what we eat has an influence not just on our bodies but also on the ecosystem. Eating a more environmentally conscious diet may help to minimize water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and eutrophication. We can only save the earth if we strive to be environmentally responsible in all aspects of our life. And starting with our food is an excellent place to start.

Here are some foods to avoid or limit in order to protect the planet.

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1. Red meat

Red meat is the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. The significant environmental effect of beef is due to two factors: land usage and methane emissions. Cattle need space to graze and wander, as well as large fields of grass to consume. Cattle ranchers have cleared or burned forests and other natural areas in order to turn them into cattle ranches. This results in significant greenhouse gas emissions. Plants and the fungal networks underneath them act as "carbon sinks," absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By destroying these ecosystems, these trapped gases may be released, preventing future emissions from being absorbed. Cattle also emit a lot of methane gas when it digests grasses and grains, a process known as enteric fermentation. While this is an unavoidable natural process for cows, the implications are dramatic: methane gas, which accounts for 49 percent of beef emissions, is a significantly more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.


2. Milk and milk products

Coming right after red meat, cheese and dairy production is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters, producing more than 30kg of greenhouse gas every kilogram of food. It requires high amounts of milk to produce small quantities of cheese. Besides what has already been mentioned earlier, another environmentally damaging problem is the amount of water used to make cheese: 1,000 gallons are required to make just one ounce of cheese.


3. Rice

Rice is one of the world's most important food crops. Rice is one of the biggest causes of increasing temperatures due to its high demand. Nitrous oxide, a significantly more powerful atmospheric pollutant than CO2 and methane, is produced by rice paddies. Furthermore, rice cultivation is said to be responsible for 2.5 percent of global warming. The enormous water demand necessary for rice cultivation is harmful to the environment since it depletes important water sources.


4. Farmed seafood

Excessive fishing has resulted in a significant drop in wild fish populations over the years. To counteract this issue, pisciculture, or fish farming, is practiced. However, this type of farming is proven to be highly harmful to marine ecosystems. Starting with shrimp farming, though it is small scale, it has a high environmental impact mostly owing to the land transformation necessary to make their farms. Mangrove trees, which are major carbon sinks in Latin America and Asia, are being removed to make way for shrimp farms along coastlines. This environmental effect is so significant that one 100-gram shrimp cocktail is projected to emit the same amount of CO2 as 90 liters of gasoline. Salmon farming is another big source of greenhouse gas emissions. These farms need feed production, energy generation, and on-farm fuel burning which produce CO2 generously.


5. Chocolate and coffee

When cacao is not grown sustainably, it produces a lot of emissions. As the global demand for chocolate expanded, numerous unethical firms began clearing rainforests, which serve as vital carbon sinks. One kilogram of chocolate emits 34 kilos of greenhouse gas into the sky. The same goes for coffee as well. Thankfully, initiatives have been taken to reduce these practices.


When shopping for groceries, it's easy to overlook the environmental impact of our food. However, according to the UNFAO, agricultural greenhouse gas emissions have grown dramatically over time. These figures might rise by 30% during the next 30 years.

Switching to a more plant-based diet and reducing meat and fish intake can benefit the environment. Some of us may not be able to totally avoid the items listed above, but we can do our best to be conscious of what we eat.