How harmful to the climate are popular foods?

So it is not so trivial to calculate how climate-friendly certain foods are. In the graphic narrative above, for the sake of simplicity, we have compared the foods purely en masse. It gives a good impression when you stand in the supermarket and compare the usual quantities. In real life, however, nutrition is more complicated.

One person who is particularly familiar with this is Manuel Klarmann, head of the Swiss company Eaternity. He and his team have been collecting the CO₂ emissions from food for years and are constantly adjusting the values. These can be used to assess how climate-friendly a food is. For this research, he made his company’s climate database available free of charge to the Tagesspiegel Innovation Lab.

Climate and nutrition: It’s complicated

If you really want to understand the connection between food and climate change, it is not enough to calculate the climate footprint purely en masse. 100 grams of milk is not as nutritious as 100 grams of roast pork.

Klarmann and his team therefore include other factors: the calorie requirement per day and the requirement for protein, fat and water according to the recommendations of the German Society for Nutrition. To meet these daily nutritional needs, we need to eat more of some foods than others. For example with sauerkraut. Compared to other foods, 100 grams of sauerkraut is more climate-friendly with 77 g of CO₂. But if you were to cover a third of your daily nutrient needs with sauerkraut, that large amount would result in almost 18 times as many CO₂ emissions.

Calculate the carbon footprint of dishes

Based on this precise data from Klarmann and his team, we have therefore also developed a climate calculator for whole dishes and recipes, where almost any recipe can be entered.

Of course, almost no one eats 1.7 kilos of sauerkraut a day. Another example, however, shows how the nutrient content can provide information on how climate-friendly a food is. Lentils have a CO₂ equivalent value of 100 grams per 100 grams, which is a little worse than sauerkraut. But you would only need to eat 182 grams of lentils to cover a third of your daily requirement. And then lentils can be better compared to, for example, cheese.

Kitchens of the future

So how will we cook in the future? Our cuisines are constantly changing due to changing trade conditions, new eating habits and cultural influences. In the long-term research Papaya & Pommes, we also follow up on this in a video series – including delicious recipes:

The other episodes of the series

All episodes of the series

If you want to understand more precisely how the CO₂ balance in food can be calculated and what the challenges are, you can read our explanatory text:

The graphics are inspired by the Eaternity project “All you can eat”. Here is the project’s website. All data is available on Github.

Papaya & Fries: The new video series

that Papaya & french fries series deals with the climate impact of our diet and international gastronomy.

In a video series, we accompany restaurateur Daeng Khamlao on a quest. She is in an inner conflict. For the native Thai, Asian food is part of her identity. The ingredients are often imported from far away and are not always climate-friendly or sustainable. How can Daeng cook in a climate-friendly way without giving up the dishes from his homeland?

In it video series, which Tagesspiegel developed together with the Berlin production company Schuldberg Films, she sets out to find a solution to her dilemma. Daeng, who runs The Panda Noodle restaurant in Kreuzberg, visits various in five episodes international restaurants and food professionals in Berlin and have their kitchens shown to them. She tries to find out: How harmful to the climate is which type of cooking really? Can you replace traveled ingredients with Thai, African or Indian dishes with local ingredients? Or maybe it is not necessary at all? She finds it unusual dishes – and maybe a bit of Berlin too kitchens of the future.

In the first episode, Daeng meets nutritional economist Ann-Cathrin Beermann and shows her his own kitchen. You can watch the series right here or on YouTube.

The authors

Published on January 27, 2022.

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