7 Low-Cost, Low-Emissions Foods


Veggie Pizza By Sara Novak

Did you know that our food system is responsible for 1/3 of our green house gas emissions? So yes, there can be serious harm in grabbing a quarter-pounder, fries, and a Coke. You may have been there: You're starved, the drive through is right there, and you're tempted to succumb to that deliciously salty, greasy fry smell -- don't do it! Your personal carbon footprint depends on it. Find out the cold, hard numbers on how much you can reduce your numerical carbon footprint and your grocery bill by switching to these seven low emission eats.

The Carbon Footprint of a Burger


Hitting the drive through a few times a week does have a huge impact. In fact, Collin wrote that America's love of hamburgers contributes approximately 941 to 1023 pounds of greenhouse gas per person, per year -- the rough equivalent of the annual carbon output from 7,500-15,000 SUVs, assuming 300 million U.S. citizens consumed the 3 burgers/week average.

On the other end of the spectrum, where the average American household to avoid red meat and dairy and, instead, consume a vegetarian diet or a diet including some chicken, fish, and eggs, the decline in greenhouse gas emissions would be equal to driving 8,000 fewer miles. That's like driving from Miami to Seattle and back.

What's more, low emission foods are often equally priced or less expensive. For example, seasonal fruits and vegetables, which are essential to reducing your carbon footprint, are generally more widely available and less expensive. In addition, meat is costly. Making meatless meals for the family is often times the more frugal way to go. While not all low emission foods are less expensive, these seven foods definitely are.


Vegan Berry Mousse By Sara Novak

1. Organic Strawberries (or any seasonal berry)

Strawberries and other seasonal berries are great for you. They're loaded with antioxidants and fiber. You can also use any extras for a snack, atop a salad, or in a yummy dessert. At their peak, strawberries can take the place of any sugary sweet treat. You'll know they've peaked when you can smell their sweetness. Buy them out of season, and you're likely stuck with a tart flavorless mess.

Averaging about $4 for a carton, these guys are a deal that just can't be beat. They're a good deal for the planet as well. Strawberries only have about 300 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilogram of food. Compare that with that fried egg you were considering for breakfast: Eggs have six times the carbon dioxide emissions, nearly 1,950 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilogram of food. Keep the carbon down and try my recipe for vegan berry mousse?

But you were planning on eating local eggs? A study in the April 15 edition of Environmental Science & Technology by prolific Carnegie Mellon University researcher Christopher Weber found that food transport accounts for only 11 percent of food-associated greenhouse gas emissions. Production, by contrast, contributes a whopping 83 percent. Specifically, nitrous oxide and methane -- mainly byproducts of fertilizer use, manure management and animal digestion -- make up a far bigger piece of the emissions pie than the emissions from transporting our food from faraway places, according to the study. So definitely go local when you can, but transportation is just a small piece of the pie, in the grand scheme of things.


Feta Chickpea Salad By Sara Novak

2. Beans


Beans are great options for those on a budget. Buy them dried in the bulk bins at the grocery store and you can get an entire pound of any organic variety for around $2.00. They're one of the most versatile foods available. Include them in soups, salads, casserole, and dips. They add tons of protein and fiber to just about any dish.

If you're trying to avoid a heavy impact on the planet and on your wallet, beans are key. In fact, according to a European sustainable agriculture report, beans save 600 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions per hectare of land when replacing fertilizers. And they are available in many varieties, from white beans to black beans. Try my recipe for a feta and chickpea salad.


Rustic Potatoes By Sara Novak

3. Potatoes


Potatoes are the Western world's rice. For a century, the West has depended on this little tuber as a staple in our ever expanding dietary repertoire. My ancestors probably wouldn't have fled to the United States if not for the potato blight in Ireland over a century ago.

Potatoes are cheap, they have a long season, and there are about a zillion varieties. You can get just about any variety for about $1.00 a pound. And they don't have to be boring. I once served up some purple potatoes and my dinner party loved the dish; it was like I'd served hand cut pasta.

Potatoes produce about 640 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilogram of food. So if you made Kelly Rossiter's Roasted Red Potato Salad with Parsley-Pine Nut Pesto instead of a steak, you'd be reducing your meal's carbon emissions by over 20 times. Seriously, beef has 13,300 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilogram of food. In addition, livestock production accounts for 55 percent of the erosion process, 37 percent of pesticides applied, 50 percent of antibiotics consumed, and a third of total discharged nitrogen and phosphorus into surface water.


Photo: Sara Novak

4. Homemade Bread


Learning to prepare your own food at home is key to reducing your costs and carbon output. For example, baking your own bread costs about $1 a loaf and produces no unnecessary packaging. And, as an added bonus, it also tastes way better. Just the smell of baking bread throughout your home should be enough to get you started. Plus, it's easy.

The emissions of whole wheat bread are just 750 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilogram of food. Just don't go layering your freshly baked bread with roast beef because then you'd be defeating your efforts. Instead, try some homemade protein rich peanut butter.


Photo: Sara Novak

5. Organic Tofu


There's usually not that much of a difference between the costs of organic versus non-organic soy products like tofu. But, by some estimates, we could remove 580 billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere simply by growing all our corn and soybeans organically. Plus, tofu is cheap and it's a good source of protein. And it doesn't have to be boring: Try a delicious tofu with mushroom ragu or a crunchy hempseed tofu.


Photo: Elenadan

6. Homemade Almond Milk


You can easily make your own almond milk on the cheap. Almond milk is loaded with antioxidants and doesn't contain nearly as many calories as cow's milk. But it can get pricey, and I go through it pretty quickly between breakfast smoothies, coffee, tea, and my morning oats. Try making almond milk at home for just pennies. As a bonus, you'll save yourself and the planet from all that excess packaging that accompanies milk from the store.

While more and more people are beginning to reduce their meat consumption, it's also terribly important to reduce your dairy intake. Even if your dairy is organic, it's 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.


photo:J. Novak

7. Organic Rolled Oats


I eat rolled oats nearly every morning. Not only do rolled oats satiate your hunger for a long time, they're versatile--you can add just about anything to them. I love mine with raw honey, raw nuts, cinnamon, and some dried fruit. They are also super cheap, about $1 per pound. And with a carbon footprint of 240 grams of carbon dioxide per pound of food, oats are a good deal for the planet as well. Consider making your own granola bars with organic rolled oats.

Make on Green Eating:
How to Go Green: Eating
Top of the Food Chain
We Like It Raw
Genetically Modified Foods "Biggest Environmental Disaster of All Time": Prince Charles

Tags: Food Miles | Vegetarian

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