Sustainable lifestyle

Carbon-neutral diet: ultimate guide to a sustainable life

Before chowing down on a prime steak or sinking your teeth into a burger, have you ever stopped to wonder how your diet decisions are impacting the planet? Before the food you eat reaches your plate, it goes through an arduous process of production, packaging, shipping, and preparation. With all those steps, can we ever achieve a carbon-neutral diet when it comes to food?

One thing is for sure, we can definitely cut down on the food practices that are worst for carbon emission. This article will break down where carbon emission comes from when it comes to our diet and demonstrates how we aim for a carbon-neutral diet!

Where does the carbon emission come from?

One of the natural ways of fighting carbon dioxide emissions is through rainforests. The trees take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, sequestering carbon and releasing oxygen. This effect has lead to rainforests being known as ‘Carbon Sinks’.

The problem is that our food habits are seriously threatening rainforests. For example, over 80% of Amazon rainforest deforestation is a direct result of cattle ranching. Not only are trees being cut down to make space for cows, but these cows also release methane into the atmosphere. Cows currently have the largest impact on the environment than any other animal.

But switching from beef to chicken isn’t going to solve all our problems. Actually, considering that chickens eat the same plant-based foods that humans can, the increase in demand for chickens has lead to deforestation of the Amazon in order to make space for producing this feed.

Unfortunately, it’s practically unavoidable that meat leads to heightened carbon emissions. That’s why there has been such a huge increase in the number of people giving up meat over the past few years.

Research has shown that going vegan is the single biggest change you can make to reduce your environmental impact. But, we understand how daunting it can be to completely change your diet on a whim.

cow in a farm with a tag reading 7018

Cutting back on your meat to move towards a carbon-neutral diet

If every family in the UK swapped a red meat meal to a plant-based meal once per week, we’d achieve the same environmental impact as taking 16 million cars off the road. That’s just with one meal per week! One of the best first steps if you’re trying to cut back is to switch to a flexitarian diet, avoiding just one or two meat meals per week.

If you’re not yet ready to cut back on meat, try and find a more sustainable source:

  • In the supermarket – Ensure the meat you’re buying is on the AHDB Assurance Scheme.
  • At the butcher – Have a discussion and ask where the meat is coming from. Avoid intensive farming, like battery farming, as this is a significant contributor to animal abuse and environmental degradation.
  • The eventual goal is that you slowly whittle yourself off meat. Try a vegan substitute – the Aldi range is really good! Alternatively, Linda Mccartney offers a wonderful vegan range.

If you need some tips on going vegan, take a look at our Veganuary: top tips for embracing a vegan lifestyle. Or, take a read of our list of sustainable milk alternatives.

carbon neutral diet consisting of vegetables and fruit on a chopping board

Coffee and Cocoa

Whenever you buy coffee or cocoa, take a second to make sure that the product is certified by the Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, or Fairtrade. These products have to meet strict sustainable agriculture goals and contribute to biodiversity conservation.

Many of the brands available at supermarkets are not certified by any of the above boards. Instead, to get around sustainable initiatives, they have developed their own self-certification standards.

I would avoid these brands where possible. Stick to ones with direct links to farmers, or those that have been certified by the Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, or Fairtrade.

If you need a recommendation, the Co-op range of chocolate is fantastic and has been completely Fairtrade since 2017!

Palm Oil is one of the worst offenders against the carbon-neutral diet

Palm oil is one of the most devastating industries that currently add to carbon emissions. One of the reasons palm oil gets away with it is they have a variety of misnaming strategies. That means while a product might not display the words ‘Palm Oil’, it could still contain it. Here are all the names palm oil uses.

Luckily for us, this app by the World Wildlife Fund can scan a barcode and tell you if the oil used was harvested sustainably.

Alongside palm oil, when you can, buy organic. Organic food doesn’t use synthetic chemicals and is held to a rigorous framework for sustainability. In fact, organic farms have up to 50% more wildlife on them than commercialised farms!

Is eating fish better for a carbon-neutral diet?

For over 150 years, we’ve known that trawling is devastating for the marine environment. Not only does it deplete fish stocks, but it also destroys habitats and disrupts migration patterns.

If you’re going to buy fish, try to stay away from supermarkets. The majority of supermarkets use this fishing strategy to catch the bulk of their fish.

It’s also best to buy fish in certain seasons. Different seasons equate to the breeding or spawning times for fish. If you buy in a spawning season, most of the fish are juvenile and are removed from the stock before they can reproduce.

Try and find local fishmongers, too. Any food that has travelled further is likely to have a higher carbon footprint. Buy local where you can!

Carbon-neutral food on the table with a variety of vegetables

The production cycle of carbon-neutral diets

A carbon-neutral diet will avoid heavily processed foods where it can. Food that goes through a long production process is more likely to have synthetic colours, flavours, and preservatives.

A lot of food packaging is non-recyclable. If a product is packaged in black, it is normally not recyclable. One of the best ways to get around non-recyclable packaging is to bring your own containers. Around the UK, you’ll find many ‘zero-waste shops’. This is where you fill up your own bag, and then weigh it. This reduces plastic use and will cut back on your carbon output.

Here is a full list of zero-waste stores in your local area! Take a look and see what’s around the corner from you. Over time, a history of shopping in these places will lead big stores to realise our consumer habits have shifted towards sustainability.

Final Tips

Our last three tips for having a carbon-neutral diet are perhaps the most obvious of all. First up, recycle!

Where you can, you should try and make the most of recycling in your area. Much of the UK now have wheely bins that are divided into cardboard, plastic, and general waste. Try to utilise these to the max, but only after reducing and reusing your waste!

Next, think about cooking together. If you have an appliance on for less time, it’ll be using less energy. That means if you were to cook with your housemates, you’d be cutting back on your carbon emissions. Not only do you get the fun experience of cooking with friends, but you’ll also be saving the planet!

Finally, make sure you don’t waste food. I know it seems simple, but currently, UK households throw away 19,000 square kilometres of food. That’s almost the same size as Slovenia!

Are you ready to make the change to a carbon-neutral diet? Let us know what changes you’re going to make in the comments down below! Best of luck on your carbon-neutral diet journey.

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