How to have a Zero Carbon Diet

Ever wondered how your diet could be contributing to your carbon footprint? Take a look at how a zero carbon diet can help.

Posted on Jul 05, 2022

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As part of this year's Net Zero Week taking place from 2nd to the 8th July, we're sharing a host of content on various aspects of Net Zero. To start we're diving into a net zero diet talking about what it is, why it matters and what to think about. 

What is a low carbon diet?

Food is an essential part of our lives, and with global population expected to grow to 11 billion by 2100, food demand is only going to go up. It is known that the agricultural methods and supply chains associated with some of our favourite foods are unsustainable, responsible for large quantities of carbon emissions and driven by consumer demand. What we eat is a personal choice and is influenced by a number of factors such as health, culture and pleasure to name a few.

With the climate crisis looming, people are being urged to alter their diets - should we? And if so, what could we eat?

In Europe, the average annual carbon footprint of an individual is between 7-10 tCO2e, whilst the average American contributes approximately 16 tCO2e. Despite a difference in overall quantity, food still contributes to a quarter of emissions in both instances, meaning there is room for significant improvement. The carbon footprint of the food we consume is affected by numerous factors, but production methods and land-use change are largely responsible. In both cases, plants typically require less energy and space than animal produce to gain equivalent yields. Therefore, a diet that is plant-based has, on average, a lower footprint in comparison to those rich in meat and dairy.

Previous studies have reviewed different food’s carbon emissions per 100g of protein as seen in figure 1. By understanding these yields, protein is set to take many different forms in a low-carbon diet.

Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions per 100f of protein. Sourced: Our World in Data

Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions per 100f of protein. Sourced: Our World in Data

Peas have an impressive protein-carbon yield and are also a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. As a result, the humble pea is set to become the basis of many plant-based protein products in the form of pea protein isolate. Mainstream supermarkets are now offering more pea protein, plant-based choices which replicate a meat form. This allows those who enjoy the texture of meat to significantly lower their carbon footprint. Tesco launched their Plant Chef range in 2019 and have since partnered with WWF to help promote the uptake of plant-based food offerings.They project a 300% rise in sales by 2025.

So will eating vegan foods solve our dietary problem?

Yes and no.

The origin of our food can alter the carbon emissions associated with it. Although imported fruit and veg have lower GHG emissions than meat in the majority of instances, eating a plant-based diet composed of many air-freighted items can increase an individual’s carbon footprint to comparable levels of a meat eater. Per portion, air-freighted food can increase the footprint of a product by fifty times when compared to ocean shipping. A low carbon diet would therefore discourage consuming items such as fresh asparagus and berries when out of season. However, in a society that is accustomed to choice throughout the year, this is easier said than done! Thankfully, there is a solution. Freezing.

 

Going Cold

Freezing does require energy which, just like shipping, can raise the carbon footprint of the product being frozen. However, when compared to airfreighting, there is a significant difference. By harvesting and freezing local seasonal produce, the overall carbon footprint of the product remains around three times lower than that of air-freighted produce. The emphasis here is that the produce must be grown in season locally. Freezing produce grown locally under hotbeds can generate a larger footprint than ocean shipped fresh fruit and vegetables. As freezing extends the shelf life of products, less waste is also generated.

Food waste alone contributes to approximately 8% of global anthropogenic carbon annually. The UN states that approximately one third of all food produced is wasted. It is therefore vital that a low-carbon diet incorporates meals which re-purposes leftovers, of which there are many creative recipes to search for!

Taking it further

As you have read above there are ways you can explore and look into changing your diet to become more net zero. This could stretch further into food that is provided in your organisations, served at schools and more.

You will discover this week there are lots of ways you can commit to becoming net zero from your diet, as above, lifestyle and your energy usage. If you're organisation has zero carbon goals that they want to achieve, talk to us. 

Want to explore Net Zero for your organisation?

We have a range of services available to help your organisation achieve its net zero targets from creating a forecast, to producing a thorough plan and looking at alternative energy sources. Visit our service page to find out more and to get in touch with us.

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