Going about your daily life you rarely stop to consider how the food you eat impacts the environment and the world around you. The impact of your food consumption can be described using your personal carbon footprint.

What is carbon footprint ?

Carbon footprint refers to the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions due to the direct and indirect activity of individuals, governments, and companies accumulated over the life cycle of a product.

Younger people are seen to have lower direct greenhouse gas emissions when compared to older people and greenhouse gas emissions increases with age.

Consumer goods are major contributors to climate change throughout their product life cycle and the carbon footprint of products represents a useful indicator of the different impacts of the products on the environment, global warming, and carbon emissions.

The production process of consumer goods and services causes greenhouse gas emissions. The mobility and consumption of manufactured goods cause a significant contribution to the overall greenhouse gas emissions for a particular place.

Carbon footprint of food

Emissions from food account for a quarter of the global greenhouse gas emissions with more than half of the emissions resulting from animal products.

Livestock is a significant contributor to the total emissions of food production with beef and lamb being shown to contribute to the majority of the emissions from animal products.

The supply chains through which the food we consume is produced, processed, and transported, release and emit a large amount of greenhouse gasses which has a major impact on the environment. Despite this, most consumers are unlikely to be aware of the impact their food choices are having on the environment.

Animal agriculture accounts for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions and emissions continue to increase due to population increase and the growing demand for food resources.

The carbon footprint of producing food resources includes the emission of gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide which are major greenhouse gasses associated with agriculture.

Food production and consumption are important drivers of greenhouse gas emissions and a typical western diet is associated with high levels of emissions. Animal-based foods are the largest contributors to dietary greenhouse gas emissions and resource use, and they tend to have a higher carbon footprint than plant-based foods.

All forms of animal agriculture, including dairy production, produces greenhouse gas emissions and these emissions can be either primary or secondary emissions. 

Primary emission sources can include manure, cropland and the combustion of fuel within the machinery used to produce the feed etc. 

Secondary sources can include fuel, fertiliser, electricity etc which occur during the production of resources on the farm.

Reducing the carbon footprint of your diet

The best way to reduce your meat and dairy carbon footprint is to avoid eating them. Avoiding the consumption of meat and dairy is one of the most significant and largest ways in which individuals can reduce their environmental impact. Reducing the consumption of processed and red meat results in a significant reduction in dietary greenhouse gas emissions.

If you can’t resist it and must have meat and dairy products, simply buying less meat, cheese, milk, and butter is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Switching from dairy products to plant-based milks such as soy, oat, almond, coconut, etc is another great way to positively impact your environmental impact.

Changing what you eat and how much of it you do eat is a great start. To further improve your carbon footprint eating more locally sourced food is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint with regards to your diet.

Eating more locally sourced food and using more locally sourced ingredients is extremely important as “A basic diet with imported ingredients can consume four times the fossil-fuel energy and emit four times the carbon dioxide, compared to domestically produced ingredients”

Locally sourced food reduces emissions from transport which has a large potential for carbon savings.

Additionally, growing your own food, such as vegetables, fruits and pulses, reduces the amount of store-bought food in your daily consumption and is beneficial for both your health and the environment. 

Food that is seasonally grown, such as outdoor vegetables, are easy to grow and have a low contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

This gardening guide may be a good resource to help kickstart your gardening journey:


Final thoughts

Food production and consumption are major contributors to climate change. The food you consume on a daily basis directly impacts the environment and plays a major role in the amount of emissions present in the atmosphere today, yet most people are unaware of the impacts of their eating habits.

The carbon footprint of agriculture, and food production in general, is enormous and your habits and food choices directly impact your personal carbon footprint.

Education is the most important aspect when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint, specifically in terms of food. By knowing the impacts of your food choices on the environment and the alternatives available to you, you will be able to make smarter and more environmentally friendly choices with your diet.