If I asked you the question ‘what is the carbon footprint of an avocado?’, would you be able to tell me? Probably not. With warnings from scientists that we need to change our behaviours before it’s too late, we need to realise that consumption is contributing to the issue of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
A carbon footprint “is the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product.” Our footprint usually involves the consumption of food and the ways in which we commute e.g. by car or public transport, alongside the purchasing of clothes that have high carbon emissions and even the amount of energy we use from general utilities such as washing machines or heating.
Food production is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. Our World in Data outlines the greenhouse gas emissions that are created by individual food products, with beef highlighted as the greatest contributor whilst nuts contribute the least.
They suggest that the largest emitters are a result from land use change, and from processes at the farm stage. As a result, the combined use of land and farm-stage emissions account for more than 80% of the food carbon footprint.
In December 2015, the Climate Paris agreement agreed that we would move away from fossil fuels by the year 2050 and the goal was to limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. However, farming processes like the ones highlighted by Our World in Data are often overlooked in such agreements.
So how do we start to properly tackle carbon emissions from food?
I can acknowledge that as a student myself, it can be very hard to constantly think about which foods are good and how many air miles they have travelled, especially whilst trying to be cost-effective. However, there are several ways you can change your lifestyle as a student to help play your part.
To start, switching to a plant-based diet or incorporating plant-based meals a few times a week into your diet would be very beneficial. By having a vegetarian diet, it would significantly reduce your carbon footprint due to the lower amount of energy that is used in the farming process.
This does not mean that you can never have a Mayo Chicken from McDonald’s ever again. but that even switching to meats or poultry that produce less carbon such as chicken and pork can be impactful too!
Beef once or twice a week produces 604kg of your annual greenhouse gases which is equivalent to taking a return flight from London to Malaga!
Did you know that if you consume beef once or twice a week, it produces 604kg of your annual greenhouse gases which is equivalent to taking a return flight from London to Malaga? If you would like to calculate your own personal food carbon footprint, you can search up the Climate Change food calculator on BBC which will allow you to choose different foods and make you aware of their good or bad effects on the environment and climate change.
Another great alternative in reducing your carbon footprint is by buying locally and buying fruits and vegetables that are seasonal. This is because when we buy fruits/veg that are not in season such as asparagus, it is flown from countries abroad and this results in air miles being used which produces a greater amount of carbon emissions.
It is much better to buy products from Britain than from abroad, as well as products that are less perishable. Often on food packaging, you can see which country it has been grown in – and by checking this, it will be helpful in reminding you to make conscious, beneficial decisions when you’re next shopping!
Whilst it may seem like a good deal for me, it is not a good deal for our planet!
So hopefully this has given you a greater insight into why our food carbon footprint matters and how we can all improve our lifestyles and help the environment. A phrase I like to remember when buying certain foods is that whilst it may seem like a good deal for me, it is not a good deal for our planet! I certainly don’t want to be moving to mars because the world fell apart…
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