Replacing the carbon-heavy beef on your plate with carbon-light chicken will cut your dietary carbon footprint a shocking amount: in half. That’s according to a first-ever national study of U.S. eating habits and their carbon footprints.
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To find out what Americans are actually eating, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey asked more than 16,000 participants to recall all the foods they had consumed in the previous 24 hours.
The study then calculated the carbon emissions of what people said they ate. If a meal involved beef, such as broiled beef steak, researchers estimated what the carbon footprint would be had they chosen to eat broiled chicken instead.
“We knew eating chicken instead of beef would lower carbon emissions related to diet but it was much lower than expected,” says Diego Rose, a researcher at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and lead author of the study.
The study shows that one simple substitution can result in a big reduction in a person’s dietary carbon footprint—the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that result from energy, fertilizer, and land use involved in growing food, Rose said. It also shows you don't have to give up animal products to improve your carbon footprint. Food production accounts for about a quarter of total carbon emissions globally.
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