Climatic enemies: These foods are the most harmful to the environment

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Climatic enemiesThese foods are the most harmful to the environment

Impossible to ignore food when you care about the climate. Here is a list of particularly harmful foods for the environment and some alternatives.

Eating is synonymous with taste, conviviality and pleasure. But food is also synonymous with CO₂ emissions – the small molecule that is the main cause of global warming. Our food is responsible for a large part of the greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland, but also in the countries from which we import food for our own consumption.

Globally, food production generates up to a third of emissions (see box) – enough to seriously address the issue. For a healthy and environmentally friendly diet.

CO2, nitrous oxide, methane, sulfur dioxide… are all gases emitted into the atmosphere. This rejection process is called “emission”.

The climate impact of methane is higher than that of CO₂, but it does not stay in the atmosphere as long.

In this article, the term “emissions” also refers to CO₂ equivalents.

Rice: the favorite accompaniment harmful to the environment

Rice is considered extremely harmful to the climate, as its cultivation releases a large amount of methane into the air.

Rice is considered extremely harmful to the climate, as its cultivation releases a large amount of methane into the air.

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Researchers are already researching alternatives to rice and are currently testing 'sea grain'.

Researchers are already researching alternatives to rice and are currently testing ‘sea grain’.

Polina Tankilevich / Pexels

Whether you are vegan, vegetarian or eat everything, the simple fact of choosing your accompaniment can already harm or benefit the climate. According to the German weekly “Die Zeit”, rice generates 3.1 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilo. By way of comparison, the potato only emits 0.2 kilograms.

Rice cultivation involves submerging entire rice fields, which leads to the rotting of soil organisms and the release of environmentally damaging methane. Rice cultivation alone is responsible for 1.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. It’s no wonder, then, that innovative food companies are already looking for alternatives to rice.

Avocado – good or bad for the climate?

Some foods wrongly have a bad image. This is particularly the case of the lawyer. On the one hand, it is true that it travels long distances before arriving on our plates (a kilo of avocados is equivalent to 0.6 kg of CO2 emissions2) and is therefore a poor student in this area compared to other fruits and vegetables such as apples or cauliflower.

But supposedly harmless foods, such as mushrooms, are responsible for twice as many emissions. Bell peppers also have a worse record than avocado. The cultivation of avocado requires large quantities of water, but this is still less than that used to obtain beef, for example.

vegetables on foot

Vegetables are good for our health and for the environment. We should not only consume it more often, but also in greater quantities during a meal. After all, carrots and other vegetables are just as filling. When purchasing, care should be taken that the products are unpackaged, have not traveled long distances, and that shopping is done on foot or by bicycle to further reduce unnecessary emissions.

Market vegetables are generally unpackaged, locally sourced and organic.

Market vegetables are generally unpackaged, locally sourced and organic.

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The difference between frozen vegetables and fresh vegetables is very small in terms of carbon footprint. What about fruit? In summer, frozen strawberries generate slightly more emissions than fresh strawberries. In winter, it’s the opposite: frozen strawberries produce far fewer emissions than fresh strawberries.

Yes, yes, the beef burger…

Animal farming represents 3/5th of the emissions related to our food. Put simply, this is more or less equivalent to the cumulative emissions generated by planes, cars, trucks and boats around the world. Regarding the ecological footprint, it also depends on the type of meat, because there are differences.

It's nothing new: a beef burger isn't really the best for the climate.

It’s nothing new: a beef burger isn’t really the best for the climate.

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Pork meat, poultry and cold cuts produce the least emissions. Beef and lamb, on the other hand, are particularly harmful to the climate, since ruminants emit large amounts of methane. The solution is to eat little or no (beef) meat and focus more on delicious meat alternatives and vegan burgers with a minimal carbon footprint. Unless you wait for quality meat to be produced in the laboratory.

The most environmentally friendly way to eat

According to scientists, the vegan diet is the most climate-friendly, because raising animals is particularly harmful, in terms of emissions. But even non-vegans can help protect the climate by making occasional plant-based meals, adopting a vegan diet during the week, and consistently forgoing meat and dairy for dinner.

The vegan diet is the least harmful to the climate.

The vegan diet is the least harmful to the climate.

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Due to their processing and packaging, canned foods almost always have a worse climate balance. On the other hand, they require less energy during their preparation.

What about (Swiss) cheese?

Cheese is almost as bad for the climate as meat. The more milk used to make it, the creamier and fuller the cheese tastes – and the worse it is for the climate.

If you really can’t live without it, consider cheese something very special. Buy less often, but of better quality and make sure to support local production.

Bad news for cheese lovers: cheese is unfortunately not really good for the environment.

Bad news for cheese lovers: cheese is unfortunately not really good for the environment.

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For a climate-friendly diet, it is also advisable not to put butter on the cheese slices. With nine kilos of greenhouse gases emitted to make a kilo of butter, the latter is almost as bad as beef in terms of emissions. The difference is that, unlike a steak, it is eaten in smaller quantities – hopefully at least!

Do you have any other tips for adopting a more environmentally friendly diet?

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