It’s a common misconception that eating locally is the best way to keep climate emissions from food down. It’s understandable why people think this but, in fact, in-depth research from Oxford University shows just how wrong this notion is!
This is the largest meta-analysis of global food systems to date and it examined more than 38,000 commercial farms in 119 countries. Researchers compared the GHG emissions from 29 different foods, including meat, cheese, prawns and eggs, wheat, soy milk, bananas, and nuts.
The headline finding was that there are massive differences in the GHG emissions of different foods: producing a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef emits 60 kilograms (132 pounds) of greenhouse gases (CO2-equivalents) while peas emit just 1 kilogram per kg.
Overall, animal-based foods tend to have a higher footprint than plant-based. Lamb and cheese both emit more than 20 kilograms (44 pounds) CO2-equivalents per kilogram. Poultry and pork have lower footprints but are still higher than most plant-based foods, at 6 and 7 kg (13 and 15 pounds) CO2-equivalents, respectively.
If you look at the chart, you can see very clearly which are the biggest emitters: Animal products are at the top; plant products at the bottom.
For most foods – and particularly the largest emitters – most GHG emissions result from land use change, and from processes at the farm stage, including emissions from the animals themselves. Together, these account for more than 80 per cent of the footprint for most foods. Transport is a small contributor to emissions.
This research led journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot to state that you could fly a banana six times around the world and it would have less impact than buying beef from just down the road.
One thing is very clear: what you eat is far more important than where it came from. If you want to reduce the environmental impact of your lifestyle, why not try vegan?