The food we eat is responsible for almost a third of our global carbon footprint. In research recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, The World Economic Forum ranked fresh foods based on how much greenhouse gas is produced from farm to fork.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that red meat is the most emissions-intensive food we consume and that field-grown vegetables produce the least greenhouse gas.


A total of 369 published life-cycle assessment studies were compiled by the World Economic Forum. The studies contain 168 kinds of fresh produce, including fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, livestock, dairy, grains and nuts.

We need to look at all the activities that produce emissions on the way, from paddock to the regional distribution centre in order to find out how much greenhouse gas is produced in food production.

This comprises of: transport and refrigeration to the regional distribution centre; farm inputs from chemicals and fertilisers; fuel and energy inputs from irrigation and machinery for cultivation, harvesting and processing.

Also, it comprises of emissions released from fertilized soils, plants and animals in fields, but does not include activities such as retail, human consumption and cooking in the home.

In the event of ruminant (lamb and beef) and non-ruminant (chicken and pork) and livestock, processes covered involve feed production, breeding, fertilizer use, farm/broiler energy use including heating, as well as processing at the slaughterhouse, transport and refrigeration to the regional distribution centre.

The main source of emissions for lamb and beef is methane. That is due to the fermentation process in which bacteria convert feed into energy in the animals’ stomachs. Methane can add anything above 50% of the total for ruminant livestock.

In the instance of fish, species caught offshore by longline fishing fleets and trawlers beget higher values because of the notable higher fuel consumption than coastal fishing fleets.

It is challenging to compare various life-cycle analyses as those are unique to a distinct growing region, methodological calculation or farming practice. We admit there is danger in relating one analysis with another to make direct comparisons and concrete conclusions.

Nevertheless, after they examined 1,800 life-cycle analysis results, researchers felt considerably more comfortable in generalizing the findings.

Due to different culinary and dietary requirements, it is hard to argue that you can replace beef with onions. However, it is possible to substitute red meat with other meats, or plant-based protein sources, such as lentils and nuts, that have a lower impact.

Our study can help everyday citizens gain a better appreciation of the life-cycle impacts associated with the growing, harvesting and processing of food. With this knowledge, they can better plan, shop, prepare and cook food while reducing their carbon footprint.

As the world grapples with the estimated US$940 billion per year in economic losses globally as a result of food loss and waste, these data illustrate the embedded carbon impacts when food is wasted in the supply chain.


According to Project Drawdown introducing clean cookstoves to the 3rd world is the 21st most effective way to reverse Global Warming.

Supporting charities who can support people in the 3rd World to use clean cookstoves is a very effective way to carbon offset and help some of the poorest people in the world live better lives.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, launched by the United Nations Foundation in 2010, is one of many organizations working towards universal adoption of affordable, effective, and durable clean cooking technologies.

Around the world, 3 billion people cook over open fires or on rudimentary stoves. The cooking fuels used by 40 percent of humanity are wood, charcoal, animal dung, crop residues, and coal. As these burn, often inside homes or in areas with limited ventilation, they release plumes of smoke and soot liable for 4.3 million premature deaths each year.

Currently, about a third of world’s population depends on solid fuels, including fuelwood and crop residue, for cooking. This is projected to increase by 8% by the year 2030. These traditional cooking practices impact not only global carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions from fuel combustion, but also the health of rural populations in the developing world due to domestic air pollution.

Traditional cooking practices also produce 2 to 5 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. They stem from two sources. First, unsustainable harvesting of fuel drives deforestation and forest degradation. Second, burning fuels during the cooking process emit carbon dioxide, methane, and pollutants from incomplete combustion that include carbon monoxide and black carbon.

A wide range of “improved” cookstove technologies exists, with a wide range of impacts on emissions. Advanced biomass stoves are the most promising. By forcing gases and smoke from incomplete combustion back into the stove’s flame, some cut emissions by an incredible 95 percent, but they are more expensive and can require more advanced pellet or briquette fuels.


We need to encourage people to eat a plant-rich diet

Clean cookstoves are an important solution to consider for drawdown. It should be noted that 17 percent of the world’s black carbon comes from biomass-based cooking, and reducing this value to almost zero by replacing solid fuel-burning stoves with renewable fuel stoves is a huge step towards drawdown. The source of solid-wood fuel is not considered in this model, but the nature of clean cookstoves enables solid fuel of size and density that could come from regenerative forest management and not subsistence clear-cutting.

Our choices have a global impact. By carefully considering what we eat and learning about the reality of global emissions we can make better choices. The purpose of this article is not to preach but to highlight the reality of our choices and what we can do to carbon offset our actions.