To reduce the carbon footprint of your food, focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local

There is rightly a growing awareness that our diet and food choices have a significant impact on our carbon ‘footprint’. What can you do to really reduce the carbon footprint of your breakfast, lunches, and dinner? ‘Eating local’ is a recommendation you hear often – even from prominent sources, including the United Nations. While it might make sense intuitively – after all, transport does lead to emissions – it is one of the most misguided pieces of advice.

Eating locally would only have a significant impact if transport was responsible for a large share of food’s final carbon footprint. For most foods, this is not the case.

GHG emissions from transportation make up a very small amount of the emissions from food and what you eat is far more important than where your food traveled from.

Where do the emissions from our food come from? In the visualization we see GHG emissions from 29 different food products – from beef at the top to nuts at the bottom.For each product you can see from which stage in the supply chain its emissions originate. This extends from land use changes on the left, through to transport and packaging on the right.This is data from the largest meta-analysis of global food systems to date, published in Science by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018).In this study, the authors looked at data across more than 38,000 commercial farms in 119 countries.2