5 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Food-Print

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Some straightforward tips to eat even greener on a plant-based diet

Climate Change is our generation’s defining issue to tackle, but what can we as global citizens do where governments and large corporations can not? Avoiding animal products is one of the most significant things you can do for the fight. . One study found that the dietary greenhouse gas footprint of the average vegan is less than half that of a heavy meat eater.

Still, certain plant-based foods can pack a hefty carbon impact. One kilogram of imported asparagus generates 5.3 kg of CO2 emissions, compared to 4.8 kg for the same amount of eggs.

By staying informed about the impact of different plant-based foods, the eco-conscious vegan can go one step further for the planet. Here’s what to eat and what to avoid for the lowest possible carbon food-print.

1. Eat less processed food

plant-based-alternative
Photo by Jan Ainali

Oreos, potato chips, and veggie burgers, oh my. There are a lot of delicious vegan snack foods out there, but they’re not always the most climate friendly.

Quorn, the mycoprotein-based meat substitute, can have a bigger carbon footprint than other plant-based protein sources like tofu or beans. The production of mycoprotein emits just .8kg of CO2/kg, but the energy it takes to process it into a tasty meat substitute increases emissions to 3.1 kg.

Processed foods take energy, and energy means emissions. It’s okay to enjoy a good veggie burger, of course, but opt for whole, unprocessed foods when you can.

Related Article: Our Five Most Favorite Plant-Based Meat Alternatives

2. Eat more local produce

plant-based-foods
Photo by PhotoMIX Company

What you eat is more important than where it comes from. Most GHG emissions come from land use, not transportation — that’s one reason beef production is so destructive.

When it comes to delicate, seasonal produce though, transportation emissions can add up. A well-meaning asparagus lover in the UK could have a big dietary footprint because most asparagus is flown in all the way from Peru. Avocados and mangoes can have a relatively high impact for similar reasons, depending on where you are.

Check the sticker on your produce to see how far it traveled. Better yet, hit up your local farmer’s market and ask in person.

3. Eat more of the Future 50

plant-based-foods
Photo by Tijana Drndarski

The World Wildlife Fund and Knorr teamed up for the Future 50 report, which lists dozens of sustainable, plant-based foods. 

Some of them are probably already on your rotation, like lentils, wild rice, and alfalfa sprouts. Others you may have never tried or even heard of. Do you get a lot of algae in your diet? What about cactus? How about hemp seeds? Try them out, and find a new, planet-friendly favorite.

Related Article: Using Plant-based Items Instead Of Plastic To Protect The Environment

4. Eat what you buy

plant-based-food
Photo by Alyson McPhee

One third of food goes to waste. That means all the emissions from producing that food were unnecessary. Worse, when that food gets to the landfill, it rots, producing even more greenhouse gas.

Buy, cook, and eat only what you need.

5. Eat plant-based foods, period

plant-based-diet
Photo by yanalya

When eating for the planet, don’t miss the forest for the trees.

Producing one gram of beef emits 20 times as much greenhouse gas as producing one gram of plant-based protein. While other meats, milk, and eggs aren’t quite as bad, they still produce more GHGs than most plant-based foods.

Do what you need to do to maintain a plant-based diet. If that means indulging in the occasional box of Oreos, so be it! Do your best, keep it up, and spread the word.

Related Article: A Q&A Session with a Plant-Based Transformational Coach

Ciara McLaren is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. Her work has appeared in HuffPost, Business Insider, and elsewhere. You can read more of her writing on Substack.

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