Low Carbon Diet Q&A

How does the food system contribute to climate change?

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 overuse of fertilizer and excessive irrigation on farms releases nitrous oxide. These are the three most significant greenhouse gases. Any food sent to a landfill also releases methane, as it is compressed without oxygen.

How can I eat a low carbon diet?

A low carbon diet looks different for everyone. First, evaluate the carbon impacts on 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 food 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.|

Will eating a low carbon diet really make that much of a difference?

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!

How do I know which foods are considered high carbon?

Visit Bon Appetit's Eat Low Carbon website.

Which foods are particularly high carbon choices?

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 product 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.)

Other choices include out-of-season perishable food items, such as berries in winter or "fresh" fish that has traveled long distances. The highest carbon method of transporting food is by air. Also, avoid produce grown in hothouses in winter (unless the hothouses are powered by a renewable energy.)

Which foods are low carbon choices?

In general, vegetables, fruit and grains grown in North America (assuming you are a North American) are low carbon choices. When it comes to meat, chicken is relatively low in carbon when compared to beef. Also, less processed foods (e.g. homemade potato salad versus packaged potato chips) are usually lower carbon choices.

Does local food have a smaller carbon footprint than non-local food?

There are many important reasons to purchase local food and produce in particular. From a strict CO2e standpoint, for most Americans, buying local in not the most important factor in lowering your carbon impact. The types of food you choose to eat such as meat vs. dairy vs. vegetables and the amount of food you waste will probably influence your carbon impact more.

There isn't enough scientific research to precisely quantify the differences between local and non-local food because of individual variables such as the number of trips customers take to the farmer's market, the type of truck farmers use to deliver their produce, and the distance farmers are traveling to market. Many local beef ranches aren't near slaughterhouses and have to transport their "local" beef long distances.

Does seasonal food generate less carbon emissions than eating out of season?

Eating seasonally is a great rule of thumb for eating low carbon. For example, hothouse tomatoes grown locally in winter may generate more carbon dioxide emissions than tomatoes transported by train from a comparatively warmer region. Local root vegetables eaten in a cold climate in winter usually require few inputs and energy to grow locally, and don't generate as much emissions from farm to table as tomatoes transported from a warmer climate generate.

Does organic food generate less carbon emissions than "conventional" food?

Organic produce, dairy and meat is grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, which add carbon points in production systems, but a lot of organic products are grown in mono-crop systems and require other types of inputs (such as long distance transportation of bees to pollinate crops or importation of grains to feed cattle.) The types of food you choose to eat such as meat vs. dairy vs. vegetables and the amount of food you waste will probably influence your carbon impact more.

Do highly processed foods generate more carbon emissions than comparable fresh foods?

Generally, yes. Processing and packaging both require high energy inputs. In addition, many highly processed food products contain ingredients such as sugar, salt and high fructose corn syrup that are highly processed themselves. Juice is also a highly-processed food. It typically takes four oranges to make 6 ounces of orange juice; then it has to be transported in a chilled container, often long distances. Compare that glass of OJ to a simple orange.

What is CO2e?

CO2e stands for carbon dioxide equivalent, which is an internationally accepted measure that expresses the amount of global warming from greenhouse gases. CO2e is not limited to carbon dioxide but also includes other greenhouse gases such as methane.

Why are we doing this?

What exactly is Bon Appétit going to do?

A whole lot! We are implementing over 20 procurement initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the highest impact areas of our business by 25%. Specifically, Bon Appétit is purchasing all meats and vegetables from North America; reducing the amount of beef and cheese purchased and served; eliminating air-freighted seafood; and decreasing purchases of tropical fruits. Reducing packaging and minimizing food waste are also part of the Low Carbon Diet. For a complete list, check out Visit Bon Appetit's Eat Low Carbon website.

How can YOU make a difference?

We’ve developed tools to help you make low carbon food choices.

  1. Low Carbon Diet Calculator (www.eatlowcarbon.org) This fun, interactive calculator reveals the relative carbon impacts of specific foods and is based on best-available science. Drag and drop menu items, ingredients or suggested meals onto your virtual skillet and see how your food choices are contributing to climate change.
  2. Low Carbon Diet Pocket Guide Carry this handy wallet-size reference guide around with you so you’ll always know how to make a low carbon choice. Don’t leave home without it!

Top Five Low Carbon Diet Tips

  1. You Bought It, You Eat It – Don’t Waste Food When you waste food, you waste the energy used to grow, transport and cook it. In landfills, food waste releases methane gas, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Buy and prepare only the food you expect to eat. If you don’t finish it all in one sitting, save the leftovers.

  2. Make “Seasonal and Regional” Your Food Mantra Foods that are in season in your region are generally lower in carbon. Those should be your first choice. Be careful not to buy produce grown in greenhouses or hot-houses heated with nonrenewable energy even if they’re close to you.

  3. Moooove Away From Beef and Cheese Livestock creates 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If you eat meat and cheese, consider reducing portion sizes, selecting these items less frequently, and eating only those products you REALLY love.

  4. Stop Flying Fish and Fruit – Don’t Buy Air-Freighted Food For seafood and out of season produce, “fresh” often means “air-flown” which is 10 times more emission-intensive than transporting products by ship. The best quality seafood is usually‘processed and frozen at sea’ and local produce tastes better.

  5. If It’s Processed and Packaged, Skip It Snack foods, most juices, even veggie burgers (prepared, boxed, frozen and transported) consume a lot of energy. We eat this stuff mindlessly. When you need a treat or an "easy grab," choose fresh local fruit, small quantities of nuts, and delicious homemade alternatives.