Diet and Your Carbon FootprintYou might well be wondering how what you eat can affect your carbon footprint or even if it can. But the truth is that your diet really can have an effect on climate change, albeit indirectly. The vast majority of us eat meat with most meals. We might have other occasional pasta dish without, but for the most part we British like our meat as the staple of a meal. That, however, is the problem.

It takes a lot of energy to get a cow (or even a sheep or a pig) from birth to the point when it lands on your table or appears in a burger. Think too of the methane a cow produces, which is around 114 kilos per year, all going into the atmosphere – and methane is a greenhouse gas. According to the UN, “the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport.” That’s a big claim, but it backs up other studies that show changing your diet can have a bigger effect on your carbon footprint than downsizing your car. You are what you eat, indeed.

What It Means

A vegetarian or a vegan diet is the most carbon-friendly form of eating. Cattle, for example, consume huge amounts of grass, water and feed, without even taking into account the food miles required to take them to slaughter, then to a butcher and to the supermarket.

Now, that doesn’t mean we should all turn our backs on meat and dairy products and embrace the vegan lifestyle; that’s simply not going to happen, however much some people campaign for it. But by cutting back on the meat we eat, and buying vegetables and fruit with lower food miles attached to them (i.e. grown locally or at least in the UK), you will have a significant impact on your carbon footprint.

One study has shown that it can take one kilo of CO2 to produce a burger in a fast food outlet. That’s a huge amount for a single meal. But it’s significant, inasmuch as we all too often don’t think about that aspect of our food.

Action to Take

You don’t need to be too drastic. But even a couple of meals a week that don’t involve meat can cut your carbon footprint quite a bit. There are plenty of excellent vegetarian recipes available that can fill your family and don’t take a long time to prepare.

Depending on what you make, at times your family might not even notice the meat’s missing. Look at cookbooks and online recipes to get ideas.

If your family is receptive, you could even try expanding to three nights a week. To be fair, that requires some commitment, not just on your part, but everyone’s. However, if you explain your reasons for putting more vegetarian meals on the menu, they might all be eager to take part. Even if you just cut out those trips for burgers, you’ll be handily trimming your carbon footprint. There are those who claim a vegetarian diet is much healthier, too, so you might even be doing yourself a favour by eating less meat.