Understanding our food systems

Understanding our food systems:
Ways to lessen your environmental impact

By Sustainable Scripps Ranch

Did you know that about one quarter of all greenhouse gases are caused by our world food system? There are a number of factors from raising what we eat, to processing, packaging and shipping.

Deforestation to clear land, which happens quite often, releases large stores of carbon. Also, the higher up on the food chain, the bigger the impact. Meat and dairy account for the biggest percentage. Beef and lamb have the highest footprint/gram of protein; nuts and beans the lowest – almost equivalent to our modes of transportation. This is clearly the reasoning behind limiting the eating of red meat.

According to World Resources Institute analysis, replacing about one third of beef could drop emission by around 13 percent. Although small on an individual level, it can add up. Of course, changing agricultural practices could also have a significant effect. In general, it takes more land, energy and water to produce a pound of animal protein than a pound of plant protein.

Now there are a number of plant based products on the market mostly imitating beef. But new ones for seafood are making their way into restaurants and markets. It does appear that they, too, have a smaller climate impact. The reason is that it is usually more efficient to grow crops for us to eat than animals. A study has shown that it takes about three pounds of grain to raise one pound of meat. There is also the issue of the creation of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which comes from cows and sheep. Give “fake meat” a try or look for more sustainably produced meat if you want to reduce your impact. Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and soft cheese have a smaller footprint than chicken, eggs, or pork. But, apparently not so for hard cheeses since it takes about 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese.

Although it can be complicated, a better understanding of our food system can help you make better choices for the environment.

This information is adapted from an article in the New York Times.

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