Does the food I eat impact climate change?
Yes. About 26% of all the planet-warming greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are coming from what we eat on a daily basis. This number is almost two times greater than the fossil fuels burned for all the cars, trains, planes, and ships on the planet. To have a better sense of gas sources, think not only about the meal you ate today, but the food system as a whole:
- All the animals raised for meat, as well as dairy, seafood, and egg production;
- Crop production and land use for animal feed and human consumption;
- Everything across the supply chain – food processing, packaging and shipping food to markets all over the world.
To check out how does your diet contribute to climate change, try out these quizzes:
- Quiz by the New York Times: How does your diet contribute to Climate Change?
- Climate change food calculator by BBC: What’s your diet’s carbon footprint?
What types of food have the largest impact on global warming?
Beef, lamb and dairy. Holy cow! Overall, animal-based products have as much as 10 to 60 times higher carbon footprint, than plant-based (and also protein-rich!). For example, producing a 1 kilogram of beef emits 60 kilograms of GHG (CO2-equivalents), while peas leave just 1 kilogram.
You may say that the amount of protein per 100g of product you will get when eating meat is not comparable to a plant based diet. Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope calculations. It is recommended to eat 0,8 g of protein per kilogram of your body weight. For the sake of simplicity, let’s take 50g of protein per day, to get which the average GHG impact (in kilograms of CO2) is the following:
Numbers are approximate. Emissions greatly depend on a country of production and a type of product. More comprehensive distributions of environmental impacts by product can be found here (Fig.S3.)
Clearly, plant-based products won the battle while fighting for climate change.
You might ask: where exactly these numbers are coming from? And how does our food contribute to global warming?
There are many ways. When we are only accounting for the GHG emissions from processing, packaging, transporting, and selling, the difference in the distribution across products is not that great. However, the real difference comes from farming processes and land-use change. One example could be: cows and sheep can digest grass that most animals cannot eat. To do so, they release the byproduct called methane – one of the GHGs and huge contributors to climate change. FYVP, if you’ve never seen how animals release methane…just search on YouTube “Funny Burping Animals Video”.
Another example is excessive deforestation driven by worldwide extreme demand for meat. When forests are cleared, the carbon stored in these forests is released into the atmosphere, and consequently heating the planet.
Is there a simple food choice I can make that would reduce my climate footprint?
“How often do you eat lobster? That’s how often you should eat beef, if you eat it at all!” (#holdthebeef)
If you aim for efficiency, then reducing red meat and dairy consumption, foods with the highest carbon footprint, will have the biggest impact on production and GHG emissions through less demand. There are many climate-friendly plant-based substitutes, which provide you with high quality of proteins. This includes tofu, lentils, chickpeas, beans, buckwheat, nuts, and much more! As viable tech solutions are on the rise, more and more startups are providing meat climate-friendly meat and dairy substitutes. Check out some of them below.
Companies and startups to look at:
- Oatly – Swedish food company that produces oats-based alternatives to dairy products. Recently, went public and is now trading at a $13B market cap. As a contribution to fighting climate change: “a liter of Oatly product consumed in place of cow’s milk results in around 80% less greenhouse gas emissions, 79% less land usage and 60% less energy consumption”.
- Planted – Swiss startup, a spinout from ETH Zurich, pursuing a unique method of creating a vegetarian chicken alternative. Recently, Planted raised $18 million Series A to expand its product offerings and international footprint.
Two of the best-funded companies in the lab-grown meat market are based in the Netherlands:
- Mosa Meat – Dutch startup which produces tens of thousands of burgers with just one a small cell sample from a cow. In February, Mosa Meat completed $85m Series B investment round.
- Meatable – Dutch startup producing real and guilt-free meat by using small meat cell samples. Meatable aims to have its first product approved by European regulators by 2023 and commercial sales by 2025. In March, they announced $47 million Series A in new financing.
This post was written by the CDTM Climate Club which is a student initiative to foster sustainable development in the CDTM Ecosystem. By connecting, educating, and empowering the innovators of tomorrow at the CDTM, we want encourage sustainability through the CDTM Climate Club to be part of the future. A great and sustainable future. For any feedback or input reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the CDTM?
The Center for Digital Technology and Management (CDTM) is a joint institution of the two universities in Munich, the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) and the Technische Universität München (TUM), offering the interdisciplinary add-on study program Technology Management.
Students from various study backgrounds with creative ideas, great motivation, and an entrepreneurial mindset are offered the tools to put their ideas into practice. Find out more about the CDTM here.