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Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Food: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint Through What You Eat

Food Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A comprehensive study released on July 18, 2011 by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) outlines guidelines to help you, the consumer, make wiser food choices. We have long known that certain foods create an abundance of CO2 emissions. What this study adds is understanding the roll of the entire life cycle of various foods, whereas previous research mostly focuses on food production. The EWG research tracks food production, processing, consumption and waste disposal to teach us how to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and pollutions that result from our dietary habits.

“By eating and wasting less meat, consumers can help limit the environmental damage caused by the huge amounts of fertilizer, fuel, water, and pesticides, not to mention the toxic manure and wastewater, that goes along with producing meat,” said Kari Hamerschlag, EWG senior analyst and author of the report. “Choosing healthier, pasture-raised meats can also help improve people’s health and reduce the environmental damage associated with meat consumption.”

Five Worst Foods For the Environment:

1. Lamb, especially loin

2. Beef – choose grass-fed and lean meats to reduce your impact on the environment

3. Cheese (this one shocked me! Total bummer!) - Less dense cheese (such as cottage) results in fewer greenhouse gases since it takes less milk to produce it

4. Pork – avoid processed pork like lunch meats and sausage

5. Salmon, especially farm-raised and those that need to be flown in from a distance

Five Best Foods:

1. Tofu, especially certified organic

2. Beans, but opt for dried beans instead of canned

3. Milk (organic)

4. Tomatoes – of all of the fruits and veggies, tomatoes and broccoli seem to have the lowest environmental impact

5. Lentils

Interesting Tidbits:

- Beef generates more than twice the emissions of pork, nearly four times that of chicken, and more than 13 times that of vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils, and tofu

- 90 percent of beef’s emissions, 69 percent of pork’s, 72 percent of salmon’s and 68 percent of tuna’s are generated in the production phase. Just half of chicken’s emissions are generated during production

- From 1971 to 2010, worldwide production of meat tripled to around 600 billion pounds while global population grew by just 81 percent

- discarded food accounts at least 20 percent on average of the emissions associated with producing, processing, transporting and consuming meat and dairy products – so buy only what you can eat!

- If everyone in the U.S. chose a vegetarian diet – the equivalent of taking 46 million cars off the road or not driving 555 billion miles in one year

- If, for one year, you eat one less burger a week, it’s like taking your car off the road for 320 miles or line-drying your clothes half the time

- If your four-person family skips meat and cheese one day a week over the course of a year, it’s like taking your car off the road for five weeks