Eating clean: The CO2 method

By | Health & Wellness
Going vegetarian could cut out 25 per cent of diet-related carbon emissions: Credit@downtoearthnw flickr.com

When driving, accelerating slowly and smoothly, is a good method of improving your carbon emissions. At home a careful eye on; lighting, electricity, heating and conserving water will also help support a better environment. How about eating habits?

A new study, from the University of Oxford, has found that by substituting meat with other foods you could improve your food-related carbon footprint and have a major impact on the environment. The calculations suggest that going vegetarian could decrease 25 per cent of diet-related carbon emissions. However, this is dependant on the foods replacing meat.

Peter Scarborough, University of Oxford, analysed the diets of over 50,000 people in the UK and calculated their diet-related carbon footprints. The study concluded that if those eating more than 100 grams of meat a day, the equivalent of a small steak, turned vegan, their food-related carbon footprint would reduce by 60 per cent; saving the equivalent of 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Scarborough said: “This is the first paper to confirm and quantify the difference. In general, there is a clear and strong trend with reduced greenhouse gas emissions in diets that contain limited amount of meat.”

More realistically, if someone eating 100 grams of meat a day was to decrease their input in half, their food-related emissions would fall by a third. In context, that would save almost a tonne of CO2 each year, about as much as an economy return flight between London and New York.

Pescatarians on the other hand, who eat fish instead of other meat, create only about 2.5 per cent more food-related emissions than vegetarians. A vegan diet is even better for the economy, producing 25 per cent less emissions than vegetarians, who still eat eggs and dairy.

Although there are many other ways of improving carbon emissions, making alterations to food habits can be one of the easiest and simplest methods. Unless of course, you own a private jet and are aware of some nifty shortcuts.

Scarborough explained: “Personally, I think it is easier to change your diet, than to change your travel behaviour.”

Christopher Jones, University of California, added: “This research presents a strong case for the greenhouse gas benefits of a low-meat diet.” In 2011, Jones compared all the ways US households can help their emissions rate. Food was noted as the area in which most people could make the biggest and most cost-effective savings; through better food wastage and eating less meat. Jones calculated that saving each tonne of CO2 emissions would also save the household $600 to $700.

“Americans eat about 30 per cent more calories than recommended, on average. Making wiser food purchases and physical consumption would have even greater greenhouse gas benefits, than prioritising your meat consumption, in the American case.”

There are four main factors to consider with food carbon emissions. The first is production. A large proportion of emissions are produced from farms due to the deforestation, fertiliser production and livestock management, which is why meat is a key ingredient to substitute. The next is origin. Transporting food and storing it will generate emissions, so consider where your fruit and vegetables are coming from and go for the local sources. Seasonality: try and eat foods that are in season, as the food growing food out of season can be a high-carbon method of production. The final factor is home care. Ensuring you have a clean plate at every meal will help carbon emissions as well as creating compost.

What other methods could you use to improve your carbon emissions?

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