What are the impacts of our food habits on climate change?

A run-down of the environmental impact of our diets - and what you can do to help.

Scarlett Welch
9th November 2021
Image Credit: RitaE from Pixabay
It’s no secret that our food consumption has one of the biggest effects on the planet. Environmentalists have been telling us this for years and many have been trying to do their bit to help - but this can be difficult if we don’t know the exact effects which our diets have on climate change. 

The biggest positive impact you can have on climate change, through your food choices, is to do your own research before buying food.

The BBC have recently created a calculator which tells you how much certain foods contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, drinking cow’s milk once a day would produce 229kg of greenhouse gas emissions per year (equivalent to driving a car 585 miles), compared to 51kg from almond milk. 

However, ‘plant milk’ in general is not a blanket solution, some varieties are still high in emissions, such as rice milk which would contribute 86kg in greenhouse gasses. 

Meat is also a big issue, eating chicken once a week would create roughly 106kg in greenhouse gases per year and beef would contribute a staggering 604kg. 

One of the biggest problems in food production is how far many items have to travel to reach our shelves.

Whilst it is well known that meat and dairy contribute highly to climate change, there are also many other food items with a surprisingly high carbon footprint. Though veganism preaches the benefits of avocados, eating one weekly would produce 15kg in greenhouse gases, more than eating the equivalent in most other vegetables, especially as they are not grown in the UK. 

It’s not just food either, on average having 3-5 beers a week would create 139kg of emissions in a year. 

So what can we do about this? 

One of the biggest problems in food production is how far many items have to travel to reach our shelves. It’s always better to buy things which have been produced locally, and are in season. 

It almost goes without saying that a plant based diet is infinitely better for the environment than eating meat and dairy. However, look out for which ingredients are being used as substitutes. For example, coconut oil is often used in plant-based products, but there is evidence to suggest that this is more harmful to biodiversity than palm oil.

The biggest positive impact you can have on climate change, through your food choices, is to do your own research before buying food. There are many surprisingly harmful ingredients that we don’t even know about. 

This is so much easier said than done, however, which is why online calculators exist, such as the BBC’s.

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