Eating with the environment in mind

08 April 2018
I went to a workshop last week titled Mindful Eating. The focus was on being mindful about how what we eat impacts the environment. The key statistic highlighted was that food is responsible for around one third of our global carbon footprint. Of course this kind of statistic can be calculated in lots of different ways - but it's clearly a big impact.

As I've moved towards more values based eating my food choices have become more deliberate. I wasn't alone on the night in being one of the already converted in the audience - but it was a good reminder in keeping these issues front of mind.

Gratuitous flower shot - I didn't have any specifically related pics.

It's no surprise that animal based protein foods had the biggest carbon footprint and plant based protein the least. The most interesting tidbit for me was that the researcher highlighted that even if you shipped your plant protein (eg.lentils) from across the world they'd still have a lower footprint than animal proteins. I think I would still try to choose local for a whole lot of other reasons but it was interesting to learn that food miles may not be as big a factor from a carbon footprint point of view than I had thought.

The workshop was not trying to get anyone to choose any one style of eating but rather present the information and provide some resources to help people make food choices that are mindful of the environment. The key factors that seemed to have the biggest impact on carbon footprint was farming practices and processing. This talk focused on protein foods but I also think 'extra' foods, which are extremely processed, must play a pretty big role. Also, these foods aren't necessary for our daily nutrition so they'd be an easy target to reduce. And dare I say perhaps more palatable for the average Australian who is reluctant to consider a life without meat!

Peppermint that will soon be dried for tea.

So what do we do around here? A lot of things really - cooking from scratch, growing what we can and all those standard simple living practices. Specifically around protein foods:

  • Include minimum two meat free meals per week
  • Base meals around vegetables rather than protein - I generally plan my meals based on what vegetables I have to use and I make these the star rather than the side.
  • Smaller meat serves - many meals have token animal based protein eg. bacon in a pasta sauce or roast pork in fried rice. This keeps the content down but keeps other members of the family happy that we are actually eating meat.
  • Include legumes and lentils more regularly - either as stand alone protein option or as a way to 'water down' the meat.
  • Eat meals from a variety of cuisines - many other countries do not have the same focus on meat that we do in Australia so this helps to shift the ratio in a meal while trying something new and tasty.

Do you do anything different at your place?
I'd love to trade tips among us in the comments - sometimes what we do every day is something new for someone else.

P.S The event was run by SEE-Change. They have lots of resources and info on their website. If you are in the Canberra area they regularly run interesting events (events page).


  1. Laura, thanks for that link. I will check it out. With the cooler weather now it is nice to be able to make lots of soups which include a minimum of meat. The crock pot comes into its own at this time of the year. We certainly don't eat meat every day but will never become vegetarians although I have no problem with those who choose that for themselves.

    1. Yes, I love the shift in what we eat and what nourishes us as the weather shifts. Like you, I don't think we will ever make the complete vegetarian shift (unless at some future date we have no choice) but I think if we can be a mindful meat eaters there are so many ways you can make choices that have less of a negative impact.

  2. Hi Laura, I'm glad to know that there are opportunities for folks to learn about low impact eating and consuming. It has always come as second nature to us, it's just logic. Regards the animal proteins having a higher carbon footprint; I'm always a bit annoyed that "they" take their sweeping figures and data from factory farmed and feedlot livestock. (Grain fed from irrigated crops) I am one of the many organic farmers who maintain that free range livestock, raised organically and grass fed, have a very low carbon footprint. Grown on land that has no other purpose(ie not suitable for cropping) at low stocking rates and with care for the environment, as many of us do. Strangely enough, the scientists aren't interested in taking any data from our types of farming, it would be too boring for them. Mass produced meat has become too cheap, encouraging everyday consumption, and little respect for eating the entire animal. 'Nose to Tail'. But the population want meat, they want it affordable, the conventional farmers want higher profits and with very little regard for the animals or the land. Given the amount of chemicals and unnatural growing conditions of conventionally grown meat, I'm very surprised at the numbers of people who buy and consume it. If they knew, they wouldn't touch it again. Great article from you as usual.

    1. Thanks so much Sally for your wise words and providing some great points. Much of the data does seem to focus on intensively farmed meat. It would be so interesting to see a comparison. It must be so frustrating from your perspective to see information applied with such broad brush strokes at times.
      You also reminded me of a step which I didn't include above - choosing meat that is reared in a less environmentally damaging way. We try to order sides/quarters of animals direct from farmer or a butcher that can tell you about where and how it was farmed.
      Animal Vegetable Miracle is one of my favourite books - I've read it several times. I've heard of and read about Joel Salatin but I haven't read any of his actual books. I must check out what they have at our library.

    2. Hi, Sally. I just wanted to say that I agree wholeheartedly with your comment. I really feel that if people understood how feedlots worked, they'd never touch meat produced that way again. I understand that cost is a factor for many families, and that complicates things somewhat, but eating less meat each week and choosing cheaper cuts and cooking them well, could offer solutions to price considerations only. It's cheap for reasons that have got nothing to do with health or animal welfare or envrionmental care but everything to do with profit! Although I only have a little suburban garden, and not a farm, I have read Joel Salatin's books, also Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and Peter Singer/Jim Mason's, "The Ethics of What We Eat". All of these made me think about food, where it comes from and how it gets to us. My family still eats meat (though I didn't for many years) but I get it from a chemical free/organic butchery who can tell me where it comes from and how it was farmed. MegXx

  3. Oh and thanks for allowing me to have my say on a subject that is usually very biassed. I feel strongly about the mis-representation of our type of farming. For more interesting information on this topic I recommend any of the Joel Salatin books, and "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" written by Barbara Kingsolver. :)

  4. We do something similar but really because we love vegetables and it's healthier to eat that way. We eat less meat and buy ethically raised meat when we cook at home.

    1. Yes, most of our changes happened because it's just how we prefer to eat too. It's interesting (and heartening) to reflect and see that they are also helping the environment. Thanks for stopping by Lorraine (I love your blog!).

  5. I don't eat meat often. When I do, I try to buy pasture raised, grass-fed meat.
    It can be expensive though, so I understand sometimes when people have no choice to buy the cheaper stuff. On the other hand when you think about the other costs - environmental and health wise - overall 'humanely raised' meat can be less expensive. (I don't like that term. How humane is it to kill an animal? but that's a total different topic. :) )

    1. I agree Nil, it can seem expensive on the surface but when you factor in those other costs it becomes a bit more even. It'd be interesting to see a comparison done on actually breaking down all those costs and adding them on top of the seemingly 'cheaper' stuff. I wonder if it'd get a few people over the line.

  6. Hi Laura.... Thanks for an interesting post. I know food is and area I need to improve upon. Honestly as a single person I get lazy and usually take the easy option with food when it's just me.
    I came to your blog through your comment on Down to Earth when you mentioned Canberra gardening. I'm new to Canberra and your link above to see change is great. I've already booked into the Eco house tour for this weekend.
    Thanks, Anne

    1. Hi Anne, welcome and thanks for commenting. Sounds like you have good awareness - I think that's a big way towards moving in the right direction. Then it's just a matter of starting where we are at.
      Welcome to the berra too. Glad you found the SEE change info interesting - a few other organisations worth checking out are Canberra environment centre and the urban farm (there is a big permaculture festival there on sun 15th which looks interesting).


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