How much do you eat?

Everything we do and decisions have consequences in our environment. What we wear, where we go, how we move or what we eat has a direct impact not only on our lives, but also on the environment. It is well known that the meat we eat has a positive impact on the culture of CO₂ emissions, but how much does it pollute, for example, a plate of spaghetti Bolognese or some the macaroni and cheese?

A research team from the University of Oxford studied the environmental impact of more than 57,000 food products sold in supermarkets. This study, published at the beginning of August in the scientific journal PNAS, takes into account the impact on CO₂ emissions of the ingredients that make the product. It does this by using the environmental footprint of raw materials and the list of specific products to calculate the total footprint of each product. For example, calculating the effect of “spaghetti bolognese” will give the effect of the ingredients (pasta, ground beef, fish, and other additional ingredients) in their weight.

To develop this analysis, the researchers used data from the largest meta-analysis of dietary intervention studies to date (Poore & Nemecek , 2018). This analyzes data from around 38,700 farms in 119 countries and 40 products that represent 90% of the world’s consumption of protein and calories. In that case, data on land use, greenhouse emissions, eutrophic emissions, removal of fresh water, and water deficit-weighted.

Let’s take for example, the daily menu of a person, with the recommendations from the Ministry of Health to be healthy. For breakfast, cereals (40 grams recommended) with – cow’s – milk (250 ml); in the morning, an apple (150 g); For lunch, a plate of macaroni and cheese (100 g), beef burger (125 g) with lettuce (100 g) and dessert, pear (150 g). For dinner, remember that there is no afternoon snack, Caesar salad (250 g), some pineapple chunks (150 g) and yogurt (250 g). Also, during the day, we had three coffee – decaffeinated or not, it doesn’t matter – capsules (7 grams of coffee each). According to research published in August, today our food will cause the emission of 11.6 kilos CO₂ into the atmosphere.

If we compare with the emissions of an average gasoline-powered car – take into account that, according to data from the European Environment Agency, a medium-sized gasoline car emissions on average about 0.143 kg of CO₂ every kilometer -, we will be doing the same amount of carbon dioxide that this car will produce in 81 kilometers, the same distance as from Barcelona to Tarragona or from Madrid to Ávila.

Meat products are, for the most part, those that emit more kilos of CO₂ – in their production and processing -. One kilo of beef fillet, for example, is responsible for the emission of 129.75 kilos of carbon dioxide. Pork (in the same proportion) emits more than 95 kilos of CO₂; while beef burgers, about 54 kilos.

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Elisa Pont Tortajada

The cows are housed in a macro farm

Of the ten foods that emit the most CO₂, 80% are meat products. Only two of them are not: instant coffee (28.78 kilos per kilo of product) and cottage cheese (25.28 kilos). The spaghetti mentioned above, if they are not dressed, will be responsible for the emission of 1.65 kilos of CO₂ into the atmosphere; when with Bolognese sauce, taking into account the portion of tomato sauce and meat that accompanies them, the impact increases to 7.83 kilos per kilo of product.

Fruits, vegetables, vegetables or vegetarians and vegan foods are those at the bottom of the table of pollution. Not only do they allow for healthy eating and their diet is recommended every day, but their ecological footprint is less.

Other environmental impacts

Meat products are the ones that need the most land for their products

This study not only analyzes the impact of the environment according to the volume of CO₂ emissions, but also researches, among other variables, the square meters of land needed to build a kilo of food or fresh water needed for the same purpose.

In the case of land, beef derivatives, by far, those that require more square meters: one kilo of beef fillet is thanks to the use of 427.33 m² of land; one for minced meat, about 300 m²; a pork, 215 m²; and beef burgers, more than 135 m². Dark chocolate is strained in the fifth place, before several derivatives of lamb – such as leg of lamb, hamburgers, chops or stew -: for the production of one kilo of this sweet carbohydrate, about 50 square meters of land is needed, less than. a third of what is needed to produce a kilo of beef patties.

As far as the necessary liters of water are concerned, meat products are relegated by nuts and their derivatives. Almond butter and almonds themselves are, with more than 6,800 and 6,400 liters respectively, the products that require the most water. Among the products that are needed between 3,000 and 4,000 liters are different types of nuts, oily fish – mackerel or tuna – and, among other things, beef burgers. Water is not essential in the production of meat products, although most of its derivatives require more than 1,000 liters to produce one kilo of product.

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