Low Carbon Foods: 3 Classic British Dishes Get a Low Carbon Makeover

Three Classic British Dishes Get a Low Carbon Makeover

The environmental impact of our food choices is not always obvious. Menus and labels don’t yet tell us, and we cannot always trust our intuition. For example, many of us think about food miles and do our best to choose local produce but in reality, the distance a product has been transported is actually a very small part of its impact.

As environmental journalist George Monbiot calculated, a banana flown six times round the world has a smaller carbon footprint than a piece of beef from just down the road. And while we may think farmed fish is a sustainable choice, Oxford University researchers were shocked to discover how high the emissions from fish farms really are.

So, here are three everyday meals – one a meat version, the other vegan – which show the practical difference our choices can make. Multiply this by the meals your family eats in a year and it is easy to see why choosing plant-based foods is a powerful tool for reducing our climate impact.

Meal 1: Shepherd’s Pie: Meat or Veg

We’ll take a basic recipe. In one version, we’ll use minced beef, dairy milk and butter. In the other, we’ll use the same quantities of lentils, soya milk and dairy-free butter.

Vegan shepherd's pie. Potatoes, lentils and seasonal garden vegetables casserole. Autumn vegetarian lunch
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 500g pack minced beef / lentils
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 500ml stock
  • 900g potatoes
  • 85g butter / dairy-free butter
  • 3 tbsp cows’ milk / soya milk
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs

Meat meal: Total greenhouse gases for this four-person meal are 16.18 kg CO2e. That is equivalent to driving 54.28 miles in an average UK petrol car.

Vegan meal: Total greenhouse gases for this four-person meal are 4.4 kg CO2e. That is equivalent to driving 14.76 miles in an average UK petrol car.

Meal 2: Roast Lamb versus Nut Roast

For the meat version, we’ll simply roast the meat with a little oil, while for the vegan version, the ingredients we’ll use are below. Both serve four people.

Vegan roasted nut loaf with cranberries
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 150ml stock
  • 225g chopped mixed nuts
  • 2 tbsp ground almonds
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp herbs

Meat: Total greenhouse gases for this four-person meal are: 20.02 kg CO2e. That’s the equivalent of driving 67.16 miles in an average UK petrol car.

Vegan: Total greenhouse gases for this four-person meal are: 1.43 kg CO2e. That’s the equivalent of driving 4.8 miles in an average UK petrol car.

Meal 3: Chicken Curry versus Chickpea Curry

For this recipe we’ll simply switch chicken for the same weight in chickpeas.

Chickpea curry
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 500g chicken / chickpeas
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 250ml stock
  • 60g spinach

Meat: Total greenhouse gases for this four-person meal are: 6.61 kg CO2e. That’s the equivalent of driving 22.17 miles in an average UK petrol car.

Vegan: Total greenhouse gases for this four-person meal are: 3.48 kg CO2e. That’s the equivalent of driving 11.67 miles in an average UK petrol car.

Want even more low carbon meals like this? Sign up to our free pledge and try vegan for a month. You’ll receive a low carbon meal plan, as well as other vegan recipes and tips.

Note: we used Tuco’s Greenhouse Gas Footprint Calculator, and kept the recipes identical wherever possible.

Thinking of trying vegan?

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