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7 Foods That Are Really Bad for the Environment

Are your eating habits climate-friendly?

According to studies, food production is responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Some foods are water-intensive to grow, some emit more greenhouse gases, and some use more land to be produced. Raising animals and eating meat has far more impact on emissions than growing and consuming vegetables. 

Are you more conscious of the brands you use, the car you drive, and the way you travel? Take this one step further and try to understand how certain things in your pantry and fridge may be increasing your footprint. You don’t have to go cold turkey on meat and dairy overnight, but reduce your consumption of high emitters and opt for local, seasonal produce as much as possible.

Eat Low Carbon has scored dishes on how carbon-intensive they are and there’s also a quiz to help you compare the footprint of dishes.

Related: All Is Not Lost! Here’s Something You Can Do

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Animal products account for 58% of all food emissions. Of this, half is from beef and lamb. Beef produces the most greenhouse gases—a kilogram of beef produces 60 kilograms of GHG emissions. 

Cows produce methane by burping, and a fully grown one can release 500 liters of methane per day. New Zealand proposed taxing farmers for this particular kind of greenhouse gas emissions. 

But there are other factors that make beef such a high emitter. Cattle need land to graze, so deforestation for pastures and croplands has become a major challenge. Around 23% of ice-free land is used for grazing, and with rising demand for meat, land-use change will continue. It is also water-intensive and requires packaging and shipping.

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Another offender when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions is lamb, which produces more than 20 kilograms of GHG for one kilogram of meat. Sheep, too, release methane, which is warming the planet much faster than carbon dioxide. 

According to the UNEP, livestock emissions are responsible for 32% of human-caused methane emissions. However, animal farming isn’t on the agenda for many governments.

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The problem with pig farming is also complicated. The environmental costs also include water pollution. In the U.S., farmers are being sued by environmental groups for polluting water supplies and causing air pollution due to unsafe practices.

Eating meat in moderation and turning to meat alternatives is recommended. You can also try to find the source of the meat you buy—if it is being imported from a country that’s deforesting to raise cattle for meat, you can reject it. It’s not an easy ask or an easy task, but it will add pressure on sellers to source ethically.

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Apart from meat, dairy and cheese are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. The estimates are 23.9 kgs of GHG emissions per kilogram of cheese. Cheese production requires milk, which comes from cows that add methane to the environment. Then non-local cheeses also have impacts, as do aged cheeses that require major refrigeration.

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Farmed Prawns and Shrimp

Seafood is controversial and complicated. Overfishing is threatening ecosystems, while fish farming can pollute water systems. However, seafood is the primary source of protein for three billion people, and the aquaculture industry employs 59 million people.

Farmed shrimp and prawns are less sustainable than other seafood. Shrimp farms are created by cutting down mangroves, so carbon is released into the atmosphere. You should always check where your fish has come from and how it was caught. Diversify your choices and try to incorporate local fish from smaller farms that may be more sustainable (read more about sustainability in seafood here).

Seafood Watch suggests buyers “avoid farmed shrimp from China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Nicaragua, or Vietnam. Giant tiger prawns from Bangladesh should also be avoided.”

Related: This Popular Tourist Activity Is Sending Climate Change Into Overdrive

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Avocadoes came to the brunch table as a game-changer. This creamy fruit has a host of benefits, but it comes at a cost. Growing one avocado takes 320 liters of water in the dry regions of Chile. It is also exported from countries around the world, so there’s shipping involved. Plus, forest land is getting destroyed to grow avocado trees because there is a huge demand. 

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Globally, chocolate is a $90 billion dollar industry. Three ingredients that are used to make it—cocoa, palm oil, and soy—have led to extensive deforestation in the countries they are sourced from. (Cocoa comes from West Africa; palm oil is sourced from Indonesia and Malaysia; soy is grown extensively in the Brazilian Amazon.) 

In Côte d’Ivoire, 70% of deforestation is linked to cocoa farming. There are also reports of child labor in West African countries, where children help with growing and harvesting cocoa. In Indonesia, a fifth of oil palm plantations are illegal—they have destroyed forests and displaced threatened species. In Brazil, an increase in soy farming is leading to deforestation and contamination of the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland.

The sweet treat comes at huge environmental and social costs.

Related: Brazil’s Wildfires Are Worse in 2020. Here’s What Travelers Need to Know

fouDor December 21, 2022

how about pre-prepared food that comes delivered to your home - all items separately pre-packaged, pre-measured, pre-washed and "ready to cook yourself"...
Has anybody thought about all this extra packaging, paper and plastic, and the sometimes daily delivery arriving in an SUV probably...? 

theMage December 20, 2022

Whats the context? According to UNESCO, it takes about 1000 liters to grow a pound of soybeans. So 3 times as bad as avocados?

RFN November 28, 2022

Ecological issues about how cruise ships, planes etc. affect the environment, are logical discussion points coming from a travel-focussed platform like Fodor's, but how does this article warrant concern by travellers?