Small step, Big impact: Rules of Thumb for Low-Carbon Eating

Sanchali Pal & Rachel Ashley
May 29, 2019

Plant-based eating is finally enjoying its moment in the spotlight. Some of the world’s most respected chefs are pioneering vegetable-centric menus. Everyone from Bill Clinton to Ariana Grande is going vegan. And if Queen Bey says a plant-based diet is cool, it’s cool.

In this first installment in Joro’s “Small step, Big impact” series, we share our three, easy-to-remember rules of thumb for sustainable eating. Do you have your own top tips? Can you tell us about your community garden and the food you are most looking forward to harvesting? Share your ideas with us in the comments section.

Small Step: 3 Tips for Low-Carbon Eating

1. Avoid red meat. The carbon footprint of beef is approximately 6x higher, and the footprint of lamb is 3-4x higher, than that of chicken or fish. This is because cows and sheep are ruminants, and their digestive systems let out significant amounts of methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas approximately 28x more potent than carbon dioxide.

If you’ve grown up eating beef, it may feel hard to cut out. But chicken or seafood options can be just as tasty, while also being better for the environment and for your health. And investment in plant-based alternatives like Beyond and Impossible is making it easier to pass on traditional red meat.

2. Reduce dairy intake. For similar reasons, the dairy supply chain is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. We usually consume dairy in smaller quantities than meat, but ounce for ounce, mozzarella cheese has a higher carbon footprint than chicken.

If giving up dairy all together is too difficult, consider alternatives in certain areas: for instance, swap out cow’s milk for oat or soy milk in your breakfast cereal, replace mozzarella for tofu in your sandwich, or consider a pea protein instead of whey in your smoothie.

3. Opt for lower-impact proteins. Beans, legumes, and tofu are delicious sources of protein that have a smaller impact on the planet, while also adding variety to our diets. Chinese, Indian, and Thai cuisines are just a few cultures that put these ingredients to work in interesting ways.

Big Impact: Food is ⅙ of the average household’s annual emissions

The shift toward plant-based diets is not just trendy: it offers significant environmental benefits. Food accounts for 16% of an average US household’s annual carbon emissions, so individual actions can make a meaningful difference.

In the decade from 2005 to 2014, Americans reduced meat consumption by 19%, leading to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 39 million cars off the road.

The bottom line: If everyone in the US went vegetarian on weekdays, we’d reduce our national carbon emissions by ~4-5%. To put this in context, the US’ total emissions grew by 3.4% in 2018.

A climate action practice is the daily exercise of bringing awareness and intention to reduce the carbon emissions within your control.

Grow your practice with exclusive tips and advice.

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