Foodprint: How Diet Affects Our Carbon Footprint

 In Food Facts, Food Waste

Have you ever chosen to eat at a restaurant because it seemed to be more environmentally friendly? Or have you ever bought a vegan or vegetarian dish due to a green certification or sign that comes with the meal?

Often, we choose to live consciously about how our choices affect others. This theme is also increasingly present in our diet. Restaurants around the world are providing more options of organically grown products, or similar healthy sustainably produced food. If you have ever wondered about the global effects of the food you chose to eat, you may have been thinking of your global foodprint. A foodprint is a local measure of how your diet affects your carbon footprint.

A healthy diet is crucial to helping us achieve moral standards, health goals and lead a longer life. Diet also plays an important role as it affects demand for raw materials and resources. This demand equals food that needs land area, water, labor, and produces carbon emissions. All food acquires these resources, and it is important to be conscious of its effect on the environment. Due to this, we use the term footprint to describe how our diet affects our local footprint. By eating a certain way, we can also control the environmental impact we would like to have.

Dieting Around the World

What diet is the best to optimize a foodprint ? In today’s world, trends and fads of diets quickly fade in and out with influence and popularity, and don’t translate to a sustainable holistic diet. Diet trends such as paleo, keto, vegan options, and low-carb diets are a few to name that have received popularity in places like North America and Europe over the past few decades. More often than not, confusing techniques can be confusing to know what is the ”right” diet for us, and even less so how it translates to a global footprint. Most popular of diets are influenced by other factors such as culture, fads, and marketing techniques, and have little scientific evidence to back them up.

A well-balanced diet while supporting local food sources will help you understand how food around the world contributes to carbon emissions. We’ve created a list of facts for you to keep in mind when trying to decide what to eat, and how to eat.


We are what we eat. Our evolutionary relation of food and eating habits have been traced to our initial social interactions and traditions that cultivate cultural identity. Today, we have more options available for food than ever before. In fact, at the present moment, 11% of the land is used towards agricultural crop production according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). So what is the right diet? How can we measure and minimize our food footprint?

Climate Change Food Calculator

It is expected that with different regional climates, resources and fauna, there will be limited and different options for food.  In a quick video. BBC Earth Lab gathered multiple examples of international dishes, and the resources needed. Additionally, BBC provides a free quiz you can take to measure your diet’s carbon footprint here.

Sourced Locally or Globally?

When measuring a foodprint, it’s normal to think first about how much land or water was used. But do you ever think about where your food comes from?

In the average grocery store, you may find food and produce from fifteen different countries all at once. Pineapples often can come from Costa Rica, Bananas from Guatemala, Potatoes from Ireland, beans from Brazil, and lentils from India. Vegan diets have the trend to be known as more environmentally friendly, yet often demand food that is sourced and imported from other parts of the world, causing high GhG emissions from travel. In some cases, mono cultivation of products may demand extensive use of water or cause land degradation. For instance, pork requires more land and water resources than an avocado, But if the avocado has to be flown in from the other side of the world, you may be better off eating pork chops. Generally, the rule of a healthy foodprint is that the distance from food grown and made to plate should remain as short as possible. The lesser the distance of travel for food, the better. This is why people have been encouraged over the years to shop more locally. Developed countries are increasing demands for fresh vegetables and products internationally.

International Food Trade

In 2016, the European Union (EU) imported almost 93 million tonnes of food from outside the EU, worth a total of €101 billion. Compared to 2012, food imports have increased by 6% in terms of volume and by 18% in terms of value.

On the other hand, in 2016 the EU exported 91 million tonnes of food outside of its borders. These exports were worth €84 billion. Compared with five years ago, this is an increase of 42% in volume and 20% in value.- The European Comission Eurostat




EU Food Exports and Imports

Fun Fact: Within the EU, the country with the biggest amount of food exportation is the Netherlands. They exported 13 billion Euros worth of food. Followed by the Netherlands is Germany and France with 11 Billion, then Spain, and Italy. (The majority of these exports went to the United States.)

The country that provided the most food to the European Union was Brazil followed by the USA and Norway.

The United States is the number one exporter for food. The main products sold worldwide by the USA are corn, milk and soybeans, followed closely by beef, sugar and beets (China is the world’s largest exporter in materials outside of food).

Want to learn more about Europe’s goal to cut waste in half by 2030? read here

Land Use and Crop Production

Crop production doesn’t account for meat production and farmlands raising animals for food production either. isn’t the only factor in agriculture how is this measured. What is the difference in what type of food we eat, consume and waste? Many people have compared and serial tested to find out.

The optimal diet for people, based on ethics, religion, or human evolution theories, is questionable. The definition to living sustainably on the earth varies because food requires a different amount of resources to grow. When we throw away different food, the amount of energy, money, water and labor is different for the two.

What Types of Foods Do We Typically Waste?


Although meat and dairy products take a considerable amount of land, water and energy to produce, they are one of the least discarded items. The UN has found that roots are one of the leading food products that are discarded. (FAO)

The idea is to look at the process of how much energy goes into producing different foods + the energy that’s wasted when we throw food away.

We know that we waste one-third of the food that is made from the crop to the fork of our spoons, costing millions of dollars in money loss. We are not only missing out on the benefits but also paying a worthless price with our resources.

So the next time you are in considering land use and waste in different products, think about the health benefits and land benefits.

Does Diet Really Make a Difference?





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