It is becoming increasingly well known that reducing our consumption of meat and animal products can be a healthier option for us and is also much better for the planet. Animal agriculture is one of the most damaging activities for our planet, and including the byproducts of animals, accounts for up to 51% of global carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
The illustration below shows the environmental impact of our food choices by comparing the daily carbon footprints of different diets, each with varying degrees of meat consumption.
From a 2014 study by the Nuffield Dept of Population Health.
The levels of meat used in the meat-eater groups:
High meat-eater (100grams or more per day)
Medium meat-eaters (50 – 99 grams per day)
Low meat-eater (less than 50 grams per day)
To give you an idea of these quantities, a quarter pound burger is 113 grams and a chicken breast around 150 grams.
As you can see, changing from a medium-meat diet to a vegan diet reduces one’s Carbon Foodprint by almost half. Even reducing from high-meat to low-meat diet has a saving of 35%.
It is clear that changing our eating habits can bring about a substantial reduction to our personal carbon footprints, and play a significant part in reducing our impact on the planet.
So where should we start?
Going completely vegan or vegetarian can be pretty daunting and off-putting for some people, so it’s important to remember that we don’t need to cut out animal products absolutely or all at once. We can just start by reducing our consumption of them to begin to make a difference.
Not all foods are equal in terms of their carbon footprint as can be seen in the chart below.
Data from the US Environmental Working Group
s you can see from the chart, lamb and beef have the highest impact of the meats due to the methane produced during digestion (methane has a global warming impact of up to 100 times that of carbon dioxide) and so it makes sense to reduce these two meats first.
Essentially as long as we are moving towards the right hand side on the above chart, we know we are having a positive impact. Replacing a beef burger with a chicken burger would be good, and replacing it with a veggie burger would be even better (don’t forget the vegan cheese!). For the average person, giving up beef will reduce their carbon footprint by more than giving up their car.
Each step in this direction of eating less meat (or less carbon-dense meat) will ensure you are eating more ‘carbon consciously’. It is kinder to the animals and will help to protect our planet.