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Our foodprint: what is it and what does it mean for us?

foodprintPhoto: norden.org

Foodprint. A term we are coming across more and more as the years go by.

What exactly does it mean, though?

Its origin is actually quite simple to deduce. It stems from the term “footprint”. And we use this word to describe the impression a foot leaves on a surface.

So “foodprint”, by logic, is the impression that food leaves. But on what? And where?

Simply put: on the environment. It is the carbon footprint that the production of the food we chose to eat leaves on the world around us.

Every single staple or piece of produce we put on our plate, in fact, has an impact. In terms of inputs, water use and gas emissions.

For example, think about the energy that producing a regular, quarter-pound hamburger takes. Below are some numbers from a Washington State University (WSU) study of 2012.

  • 14.6 gallons of water. Conventional beef production requires more than 485 billion lt of water for 1 billion kilos of beef. This includes the water the cows drink as well as the water that irrigates the crops that they eat.
  • 13.5 pounds of feed. Conventional beef systems require about 54 million tons of feed to produce 1 billion kilos of beef. This amounts to about 13 pounds of feed per quarter-pound hamburger.
  • 64.5 square feet of land.
  • 0.126 pounds of methane. Cows belch this greenhouse gas into the atmosphere while food ferments in their stomachs.
  • 4 pounds total carbon footprint. The study estimates a total carbon footprint of more than 15 million tons of carbon dioxide per billion kilos of beef. That works out to about 4 pounds of carbon footprint per quarter pound of beef.

Now take a look at the figures for carbon footprint per kg of each food group, specific to the US.

As you see, there are less carbon dioxide emissions in the production of drinks, fruit and vegetables than in any other staple. And, of course, animal products occupy the highest ranking, with emissions nearly 6 times the average of non-animal products.

These few, specific examples and figures are definite eye-openers.

But what do they mean to us when translated into practice?

The environment always pays. The few dollars we dish out for our favorite burger cannot compare to the resources going into its production. As shown, animal products have the highest impact on the environment. They are mainly responsible for the strain on natural resources. But producing non-seasonal produce in artificial houses is not helpful either. A greenhouse tomato can have emissions 5 times higher than one grown in season.  So what can we do to limit all of this damage? Is there an actual solution?

We need to understand how to strike a balance. Efficiency in food production looks at how calorific foods are, apart from foodprints. As well as how much consumer waste or supply chain loss each staple generates. For example: oils, sugar and cereals are highly calorific. But they have relatively low supply chain losses and consumer waste, which means they perform well. Fruits and vegetables, instead, are less calorific. But, on the other hand, they have a very high share of waste and losses. So will eating less meat or dairy help the planet? Will consuming more produce create more food waste?

If you are looking for answers to these questions, like we are, stay tuned for our next article. There, we will explore some ideas to reduce our foodprint. The suggestions come from what communities who care about the planet are already successfully doing. And we add a few of our own experiences as well.

At the end of the day, each one of us is responsible for what we choose to put on our plate. Let’s not make our food a symbol of the debt our children will, one day, have to pay back.


Michelle Calcatelli

Michelle Calcatelli

Hi there! My name is Michelle. I'm an American living in Italy, mom of two girls, a lover of travel, music and good food shared with loved ones. I am a freelance grant writer and a former agricultural development practitioner, having worked mostly in rural Africa for 18 years. I look forward to creating a space here - with your help - where we can exchange dreams, ideas and kindness to start shaping a better tomorrow.

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