Q: How does the food system contribute to climate change?
A: Agriculture in the U.S. food system relies heavily on fossil fuel; burning fossil fuels in the transportation and processing of food products causes carbon dioxide emissions. Even more significantly, livestock produce vast quantities of methane gas, and agricultural practices release nitrous oxide. These are the three most significant greenhouse gases. For more information, check out the Low Carbon Diet page.
Q: How can I eat a low carbon diet?
A: A low carbon diet looks different for everyone. First, evaluate the carbon impacts of your current diet and set your own reduction goal. We think a 25% reduction is achievable for most people. Then, play with the Low Carbon Diet Calculator to create lower point meals using foods you like. Some of our suggestions: for meat eaters, eat smaller portions or eat meat less often. For vegetarians, watch your intake of dairy products. And for everyone, waste less and avoid buying ingredients that have been transported by air.
Q: How will Low Carbon Diet options be distinguished in the café?
On Low Carbon Diet Day, Bon Appétit chefs will transform each food station to highlight a principle of the Low Carbon Diet and answer all the tough questions: does my sushi have more frequent flier miles than I do? Do cow burps really harm the planet more than my car?
For diners who accept that beef is high carbon but still want to eat the occasional burger, the Low Carbon Diet will demonstrate how to make it more eco-friendly: skip the cheese, the bacon, and swap out-of-season lettuce and tomato for a tasty lower-carbon alternative like grilled onions.
Q: Will eating a low carbon diet really make that much of a difference?
A: The eating habits of people in the United States generate 5% of the world’s total greenhouse gases. We can lower that by knowing the difference among different foods and substituting tasty alternatives. So, yes, eating a low carbon diet can really make a difference!
Q: Which foods are particularly high carbon choices?
A: Meat and dairy are especially high in carbon because ruminants (cows, sheep, and goats) naturally emit methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Any food sent to a landfill also releases methane, as it is compressed without oxygen.
Other choices include out-of-season perishable food items, such as berries in winter or ‘fresh’ fish that’s traveled long distances. The highest carbon method of transporting food is by air. Also, avoid produce grown in hothouses during winter (unless the hothouses are powered by renewable energy). This practice is extremely carbon-intensive.
Q: Which foods are low carbon choices?
A: In general, vegetables, fruit and grains grown in North America (assuming you’re in North America) are low carbon choices. When it comes to meat, chicken is relatively low in carbon compared to beef. Also, less processed foods (e.g. homemade potato salad versus packaged potato chips) are usually lower carbon choices.
Q: Why are meats and cheese so high carbon?
A: Meat and dairy are especially high in carbon because ruminants (cows, sheep, and goats) naturally emit methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In addition, North American, Japanese and European data are clear that emissions associated with large animal products are high. This has to do with the energy inputs associated with the production of feed for animals (very high), the length of time it takes to grow animals to maturity as compared to plants (therefore, that much more energy to feed them), and their weight (a factor in transport emissions).