Rethink What You Eat for Earth Day

May 1, 2019
Happy Wednesday Gauchos! Today's post comes from Enviromental Intern Rhianna Haynie-Cion. Enjoy!
With Earth Day recently passing by, many of us have been seen posting Instagram photos honoring nature and making sure to recycle those yerba mate cans or bottles. But when it comes down to it, what really matters are the long term impacts that individuals have on the planet. Many are choosing to impact the planet positively by going vegetarian, but removing meat entirely is not the only way for your diet to help the planet. Food production is responsible for about 25% of the carbon dioxide emissions on the planet, and this ranges from meat production to the processing of different plants. If you are looking to have a smaller impact on the environment by tweaking your diet here and there, here is a key to different carbon emissions. 
When it comes to diets, there are different perceptions around vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and omnivores. But it isn’t as simple as just looking at one diet and finding the best option or way to reduce carbon emissions. Heavy meat eaters - defined as anyone who eats more than 3.5 ounces of meat per day - have an approximated average footprint of 15.8 pounds of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere per day. By comparison, medium meat eaters have an average footprint of 12.4 pounds, and light meat eaters have an average of 10.3 pounds. Pescatarians approximate around 8.6 pounds of carbon dioxide, vegetarians 8.4 pounds, and vegans at 6.4 pounds. Conclusion? It is not necessary to cut out meat entirely, for there is a more significant gap between heavy and light meat eaters than light meat eaters and people who are entirely vegan.
In terms of differentiating types of food and their environmental impact, another source classifies food in terms of the carbon dioxide produced per kcal (kcal = kilocalorie; one kilocalorie is equal to 1,000 calories) of food consumed. Beef and lamb are consistently ranked the highest, with 14.1 grams of carbon dioxide per kcal. This is dramatically reduced when consuming chicken, fish, and pork, which average about 3.8 grams. Dairy and fruit are actually measured as higher carbon dioxide emissions per calorie, averaging around 4.6 grams of carbon dioxide, reiterating that going entirely vegetarian is not necessary to have an impact on the environment. Lowest ranking foods include cereals, bread, vegetables, oils, snacks, sugar, and drinks, which although may not be the healthiest choices, provide very low carbon dioxide impact on the planet.
Other sources discuss specific foods and can help you further adjust your diet for environmental purposes. In terms of kilograms of carbon dioxide produced per kilogram of consumed food, lamb and beef again rank the highest, doubling the impact of cheese, pork, and salmon, respectively. Turkey, chicken, and canned tuna follow in impact but are very close in value to the eggs and potatoes that follow. Foods that produce the least impact include rice, peanut butter, nuts, yogurt, broccoli, tofu, dry beans, milk, tomatoes, and lentils, with the latter only producing 0.9 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram consumed. 
Overall, by examining day-to-day choices, the foods we consume can have a large impact on the environment. In addition to composting food remains, recycling containers, and choosing from organic and local companies, individuals can switch up their diet in order to impact carbon dioxide emissions. And with these changes, you can impact the health and well being of our environment.
Plumer, Brad. “Going Vegetarian Can Cut Your Food Carbon Footprint in Half.” Vox, Vox, 13 June 2016
Ertz, Brian. “Report: Climate and Environmental Impacts of Meat Production.” The Wildlife News, 16 Aug. 2011


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