5 Foods with Huge Carbon Footprints

When you bite into a hamburger or enjoy a pile of roast asparagus, do you think about the impact it has on the environment? Well, maybe you should.

See, the food that we eat has an incredible impact on climate change. In fact, agriculture is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. What foods we choose to buy, how†we choose to purchase them and how often we consume them matter to global warming.

And not all foods have an equal impact.

Livestock and their byproducts†account for†at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or†51†percent†of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. And agriculture is responsible for†80-90†percent†of all United States water consumption. That’s crazy!

Here are the top five offenders.

5 Foods with Huge Carbon Footprints

environmental impact of food (1)

In 2011, CleanMetrics Corp., a Portland, Oregon-based environmental firm, published a report called “The Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change & Health.” Based on that report, these foods are the most ‘environmentally impactful’ based on their greenhouse gas emissions. (Be sure to check out their methodology in the report itself.)

Each of these foods was studied from a variety of angles: emissions produced before a product leaves the farm (i.e. use of fertilizer and pesticides, irrigation, impact of animal feed) and emissions produced after the product leaves the farm (i.e. food processing, transport, retail, cooking and ultimately waste disposal).

Here are the results, in kilograms of CO2:

1. Lamb – Produces 39.2 kg CO2 during its lifetime.

2. Beef – Produces 27 kg CO2 during its lifetime.

3. Cheese – Produces 13.5 kg CO2 during its lifetime.†

4. Pork – Produces 12.1 kg CO2 during its lifetime.

5. Farmed Salmon – Produces 11.9 kg CO2 during its lifetime.

And it’s not just animal products that are the problem.†Potatoes produce the most emissions of all protein-rich plants,†followed by asparagus, avocados, bananas and eggplant. Most of these require air freight to different parts of the world, because they only grow in warm climates.

What can you do about it?

Every single day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds CO2 equivalent and one animalís life. That’s seriously convincing!

environmental impact of food

Here’s what I want you to hear most:†food is power.†You have an incredible amount of influence in the palm of your hand. What will you do with it?

Reducing (or eliminating) your meat intake has†innumerable benefits. Youíll contribute significantly to the causes of conservation and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and youíll look and feel better in the process.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Learn about the impacts of the agriculture industry. Get to know the facts and equip yourself with knowledge.
  2. Don’t feel pressure to change your entire diet in one day. Take it bit by bit. Start by eliminating red meat, then chicken.
  3. Slowly integrate plant-based meals into your weekly routine. Once you have some recipes you know you can count on, phase out the rest.

Already†eating a plant-based diet? Make it a point to shop in season and shop local whenever possible, if not always!

Think you can do it? I know you can!


Jim V
Jim Vabout a year ago


Jerome S
Jerome Sabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Christine J
Christine Jabout a year ago

Shopping locally helps the local community, reduces transport costs and makes a lot of sense.

Melania P
Melania Pabout a year ago

Here is another list from The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
1. Beef
10. Turkey

Leanne K
Leanne Kabout a year ago

Its crazy that Australia imports oranges from the U.S when we grow plenty here. But often the supermarket does not offer the choice. Its then the choice to buy or not...

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

People have to eat to live.

Telica R
Telica Rabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

Dennis Hall
Dennis Habout a year ago


joan silaco
joan sabout a year ago


Olga T
Olga Tabout a year ago

Why would you suddenly switch to promoting plant-based diet right after writing that plants leave huge carbon footprint as well? The end of the article doesn't have anything to do with the beginning.