Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Carbon Footprint of Food

When I originally decided to write the blog entry for the carbon footprint of food, I figured it would mostly center around how food gets from location A to location B and how much of a CO2 footprint it would leave in its trail. However, according to a study published by Carnegie Mellon researchers in April, it seems that how food is produced (going all the way back to the fossil fuels used to manufacture fertilizer and tractors) may be an even bigger contributor to our food's carbon footprint than its transport.

Though the average distance a parcel of food travels is around 4,500 miles, one would think that buying locally would cut down significantly on that annoying carbon tag. While it does in many cases, what you may not be taking into account is the energy required to produce that food in a particular climate. For example, a community in England may incur less of a footprint by importing tomatoes from Spain than by growing them in a greenhouse a few counties over because of the amount of energy used to power and supply those greenhouses. (Another article that explains this concept really well is Big Foot, by Michael Specter.)

However, according to the Carnegie Mellon study, shifting your diet for ONE DAY a week can actually have just as much, if not more of an impact as buying all local produce. According to an article on the environmental Science & Technology website, "Replacing red meat and dairy with chicken, fish, or eggs for one day per week reduces emissions equal to 760 miles per year of driving. And switching to vegetables one day per week cuts the equivalent of driving 1160 miles per year."

While some people may cringe at the thought of not having a cheeseburger every day, taking that one day and not eating red meat or dairy would still have a huge impact on your individual footprint. It obviously won't zero out your emissions, but it's a huge, helpful start.

For more statistics on what foods have the biggest footprints, check out this helpful pie chart.

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