Flaws of Low Carbon Diet Day

Marie Straquadine

This year on Earth Day, Andrew Commons had a Low Carbon Diet Day lunch. The event was meant to educate diners about foods that use high amounts of carbon dioxide and to offer foods that are produced with less carbon. While it is important to draw attention to the fact that the food industry produces one third of all greenhouse gases, Bon Appétit’s menu choices were less than perfect.
Beef was not served during lunch last Thursday. Of all foods, the production of red meat produces the most greenhouse gases, so Bon Appétit’s decision not to serve any beef was the right one. However, red meat was still served in the form of deli ham.
Other meat products, like turkey burgers, were also available. No cheese was served. Because Bon Appétit continued serving meat but eliminated cheese, diners were given incomplete information about the amount of greenhouse gases certain foods produce.
Bon Appétit’s Low Carbon Diet Calculator website gives information on the amount of carbon dioxide produced by specific food items. The website’s focus on carbon dioxide emissions suggests that Bon Appétit defines the term “carbon footprint” as the amount of carbon dioxide produced.
They seem to disregard other greenhouse gasses, such as methane, which is 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. This leads to a misrepresentation of the total greenhouse gases produced by these foods.
While it’s true that processing dairy products uses more carbon dioxide than the production of poultry and fish, the meat industry as a whole is the largest contributor to total greenhouse gas emissions. In 2006, a report by the UN found that “the meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than all the SUVs, cars, trucks, planes and ships in the world combined.”
Bon Appétit failed to mention that switching from a diet that includes meat to a vegetarian diet can reduce a person’s carbon footprint by a ton per year, while switching to a vegan diet can reduce it by two tons.
Bon Appétit also seems to have failed to take into account that both meat-eaters and vegetarians eat cheese. By not serving it, the company effectively limited the food options of more people than if it had eliminated meat alone.
Bon Appétit could do more to promote the idea of a low carbon diet on a daily basis by offering more vegetarian options, which produce fewer greenhouse gasses than meat options.
For example, Andrew Commons could serve more vegetarian soups. Of the three soups served in a single day, often only one is vegetarian. Sometimes, all three of the soups contain meat. According to Bon Appétit’s own Low Carbon Diet Calculator, every single vegetarian soup listed on the website produces less carbon dioxide than the soups containing meat.
There is also rarely a variety of vegetarian pizza options. On most days, three types of pizzas are served: plain cheese, one with meat toppings and one with both vegetable and meat toppings. This makes it difficult for vegetarians, who would be likely to try the pizza with vegetable toppings if a meatless version were served.
By offering a few more vegetarian options among their soups and pizzas, Bon Appétit could serve more people – just because people eat meat doesn’t mean they will never choose to eat something without meat. This expansion would also help Bon Appétit reduce its carbon footprint over the long term.
Bon Appétit’s attempt to educate people on the amount of carbon dioxide used to produce food was well intentioned. However, in the future, the company should strive to present more accurate information about the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by the food industry and, as a result, serve more vegetarian options.
For more information, see: http://www.eatlowcarbon.org.

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