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Sustainable food choices

Do my food choices really have consequences for the environment?

Updated: 2020-07-29

Answer Section

Yes. Diets high in meats and other animal products take a toll on the environment through the clearing and erosion of land, damage to ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, increased water consumption and pollution, and greenhouse gas production.

These types of diets are rapidly replacing traditional diets around the world. If this trend continues, it is estimated that by 2050 food production will contribute to an estimated 80 percent increase in global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Consider these facts:

  • The water footprint — the total volume of fresh water consumed — to produce beef is more than 60 times higher than the water footprint for the same amount of vegetables.
  • The carbon footprints (greenhouse gas production) for fruits and for vegetables are 55 and 32 times lower, respectively, than the carbon footprint for red meat.
  • Eggs, dairy, nontrawling seafood and aquaculture, and poultry and pork have a much lower impact on the environment compared with beef.

So the changes needed to achieve a healthy diet — eating more plant-based foods and fewer animal products and salted snacks and sweets — also have a positive impact on soil use, water consumption and carbon emissions.

For example, limiting meat to just twice a week would save up to 2,218 liters of water and 2,942 grams of carbon dioxide per person per day — reducing the environmental impact by about one-third.

Your food choices do make a difference. Why not choose to eat less meat and more plants? How about cutting back on processed foods? How about cutting down portion sizes and working to reduce wasted food? Doing so will do your body good — and the environment.