When it comes to health and sustainability, what do we know?
Many people are choosing to opt for diets based on how they affect the planet, not just their own bodies. So let’s take a look at proteins to see if there are any obvious food culprits when it comes to environmental impact.
Beef farming comes with one of the highest environmental impact rates out of all the food groups, with greenhouse gas emissions at 58% of the total emissions in Australia alone!
But emissions rates from beef are very dependent on the chosen feeding system.
Grazing beef farms in Australia and America have the veneer of being extremely environmentally friendly and healthy, particularly with the popularization of grass fed cattle.
The upside of grass fed is: they are not grain fed with soy or corn, these two grains requiring substantial water, fertilizers, GMO intervention, transport and processing. And are said to increase inflammatory markers within the body, when eaten.
Making pasture cattle appear the more environmentally sustainable option.
But on the other hand, according to The Australian National University who compared an organic beef farmer with a conventional feedlot, and it pains me to share it but it’s the truth: the organic grass fed beef produced more emissions than the grain-finished beef!
Grain fed are edging towards being considered marginally more environmentally sustainable than large grazing cattle farms, as less forest is cleared for the smaller feeding lots, they have strict environmental protection regulations which implement how they manage waste, run off and protect the water table.
But how do we feel ethically about the treatment of these animals in feeding lots? These are difficult decisions.
2) Eggs vs. Cheese
With cheese production producing a similar environmental impact as feedlot beef, and being worse for the environment than milk, cheese is the obvious environmental insult here.
If we look purely at the water usage comparison that goes into the production of cheese to eggs, cheese uses a staggering amount more. Water is needed not only for the cattle, but also for irrigating their pastures, or for the production of their grain feed- both being substantial.
It is said one pound of cheese takes around 600 gallons of water. Therefore, 2 slices of cheese uses about 100 gallons of water!
3) Lamb vs. Chicken
According to Professor Andy LeBrocque from the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, chicken is the most environmentally sustainable
out of all livestock for a number of reasons; they are smaller animals, they require less space than their larger counterparts, require less water and are lighter to transport.
Lamb is considered the second most environmentally impactful livestock after beef. It produces more gas emissions, more water is used and there’s more land clearance.
Although in a twist, caged chickens produce more pollutants to the land and water than do lamb.
So free-range chicken is the clear winner here.
4) Whole Dairy Milk vs. Alternative Milks
Producing whole raw milk impacts the environment in a big way!
According to the U.N’s Food and Agricultural reports, this industry makes up 4% of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions, and produces 13kg of CO2 per month.
From the production of feed for cows, to the processing of the milk, the refrigerated transport required and the varying packaging materials, it’s a big environmental cost.
In general, dairy free milks require large amounts of processing too, but appear to be more sustainable.
The ingredients may travel further than that for dairy milk, but for instance: coconut milk uses less water, energy, and land and produces fewer emissions than soy, rice or almond milk.
Soy and rice milk require a lot of land clearing, while almond milk requires a lot of water.
The winner would be coconut milk in this comparison of milks.
5) Lentils vs. Tofu
Legumes are considered one of the most sustainable crops to grow, as they produce very little emissions, do not require much water in comparison to other crops, and most legume growth actually fixes nitrogen in the soil, so they don’t require nitrogen based fertilizers, making them more sustainable and easier to grow organically.
On the other hand soy production has a big impact of environmental sustainability, where a lot of land is generally cleared to grow soy, and unless it’s organic, massive amounts of fertilizer and herbicides are used.
In the processing of soy to tofu, more emissions are released, there’s more water and energy used, so lentils are the clear winner here…
4) Pork vs. Bacon
When it comes to a product affecting environmental biodiversity, pork exerts a relatively low pressure compared with beef or lamb.
Pork comes from controlled indoor or outdoor farms and feeding systems, although they do produce moderate to high chemical pollution if they come from indoor farms.
Both pork and bacon production require large volumes of water and energy, although bacon requires further processing and smoking than does pork, so bacon is the environmental villain in this debate.
So this gives you some extra tools to use in choosing your food from an environmental standpoint, not just for health but also for the health of your planet and your children’s planet.