Carbon Footprint of Vegan Diet vs Veg vs Fish (Vegan Footprint Calculator)

Couple eating only vegetables at a table are confused as the carbon footprint of vegan diet floats above the plates and they wonder what is the vegan carbon footprint vs fish carbon footprint and other foods.

Have you ever wondered about the carbon footprint of vegan diet, compared to other things like vegetarian or even a diet that has fish as the source of meat (protein)?

Believe it or not, various factors play a role in comparing food’s nutritional value and its environmental impact. That’s why knowing the carbon footprint of food can be as beneficial as knowing its caloric and nutritional values.

For example, while a diet that incorporates meat tends to have higher environmental impacts, not all types of meat have such effects.

You can measure the carbon footprint of you diet right now, using this calculator:

Foods like broccoli and other veggies have a low-calorie count compared to chicken or pork. But, it’s not always that easy…

The shipping emissions generated by sending avocados long distances can make their footprint higher than a local farmer who grows their own food.

However, ruminants have the highest impact on the environment, specifically cows.

Besides the methane produced from the fermentation of food in the four-chambered stomach, cows also give birth about once a year. That is a problem because each cow produces a single calf in that once-per-year birth, meaning the carbon cost of maintenance lasts a year.

This guide outlines how the carbon footprint of vegan diet compares with other foods, and why certain things have a higher footprint.

Vegetarian vs Omnivore Environmental Impact Chart (Carbon Footprint Vegetarian vs Omnivore)

The graph below shows the GHG emissions vs land used for different agricultural products.

Bar graph representation of the greenhouse gas emissions vs land used of different meat products and its substitutes.

Animal/Product/Substitute Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Kg CO2e/Kg of Product) Land Used (m2 Years/kg of Product)
Beef 39 40
Mutton/Lamb 43 143
Chicken 8.7 13
Pork 10 17
Cheese 16 18
Tofu 3.2 3.5
Quorn 1.6 – 6.15 2 – 2.5

Carbon Footprint Vegan vs Meat Eater(Carbon Footprint Quorn vs Meat)

Animal products like meat are bad for the environment, mainly because of the methane produced in the case of ruminants, and the amount of land they require.5 For example, the people who rear cattle on a large scale.

The cattle requires a lot of land to graze and even more land to grow the feed that they will eat.

That means that in areas where there is a lot of animal farming, there is likely to be a lot of deforestation to provide land for that. Whereas if the land was used for plant farming, it would not have to be that much land.

Another hack is that trees can grow together with some plants and help sequester carbon.

That is why most people now are navigating towards meat substitutes like Quorn to avoid the huge environmental impact that comes with eating beef and other meats from ruminants.

Carbon Footprint of Beef (Beef Carbon Footprint)

From the table above, the carbon footprint of beef is 39 kg of CO2 for every kg of the product.

Most cows weigh about 1100-1500 pounds when ready for harvesting. If you convert the lowest weight to kg, that is about 499 kg. If you multiply that by 39kg, you get 19,461 CO2 emissions.

For a farm with hundreds of cattle, the CO2 emissions are extremely high.

Bar graph illustration of the carbon emissions of the different types of meat eaters.

Also, note that CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas that cattle produce. There is methane that is 20 times worse than carbon in heat-trapping.

According to estimates, this is the meat carbon footprint comparison for different types of eaters.

Type of Meat Eater Tonnes of CO2eq Per Year
Low meat eaters 1.7
Medium meat eaters 2.0
High meat eaters 2.6

Carbon Footprint Chicken

It only takes two pounds of feed to one pound of chicken. Compared to the five pounds of feed used to make the same amount of beef, chicken is a better food source.

Additionally, chicken takes a very short time to mature and harvest, meaning that fewer resources are required during its lifespan.

Chicken produces 6.2 kg CO2, which is equivalent to 16 car miles. Compared to all other meats, chicken ranks the lowest in terms of emissions and is, therefore, a better choice for omnivores.

Carbon Footprint of Eggs

Eggs produce 4.8 kg of CO2, which is lower than chicken meat but way higher than other vegan food items.1

Therefore, vegetarians save the planet some CO2 emissions when they eat animal products like eggs and not meat which goes through a long process to produce and has more emissions.

Fish Carbon Footprint

Seafood has a lower carbon footprint than red meat, but there are categories for the emissions of different types of seafood.

Fish produces about 1.34kg CO3eq, with small fish like sardines and anchovies having the lowest carbon footprint.

However, fish can contain toxins and over fishing has adverse effects on the environment.

Therefore, chicken is a better meat to eat than fish and any other meat.2

Impact of Being a Vegetarian (Environmental Pros and Cons of Vegetarianism)

Different people become vegetarians for various reasons, which could be a way to protect animals or curb climate change.

All the reasons are valid, and becoming a vegetarian is a move that will benefit everyone in the long run.

The trend of eating a plant-based diet has become popular in the 21st century, and more companies are now considering vegetarians in their line of products and services.6

Many restaurants now have vegetarian food sections in their menu for inclusion and to encourage people to try out veg diets.

What Are the Environmental and Overall Pros and Cons of Vegetarianism/Veganism?

Below is the list of the different positive and negative effects of veganism on the environment:

Positive Effects of Veganism on the Environment and Other Life Aspects

  • Can slow down global warming
  • Health benefits
  • Lesser need for factory farming
  • Potential higher life expectancy
  • Weight loss
  • Saves the lives of animals
  • Reduces in global hunger
  • More efficient food use
  • Forest preservation
  • Water conservation
  • Reduced soil pollution
  • No habitat destruction
  • Reduced groundwater pollution
  • No overfishing problem
  • Reduces the use of antibiotics

Negative Effects of Veganism on the Environment and Other Life Aspects

  • May be more costly
  • Requires a strong will to stick to
  • You could lose the freedom of choice
  • Nutrient deficiencies are possible
  • GMOs are a problem in soy farming7
  • Can affect health if done improperly
  • You could lose muscle mass
  • Giving up your favorite foods might not be easy
  • Can affect the growth of kids
  • Vegetarianism is not the natural way of eating
  • Not enough strength for jobs that require hard physical work
  • Also has some greenhouse gas emissions
  • Not easy to implement in your daily life

Carbon Footprint of Vegan Diet

Eating sustainable food is absolutely a win for the environment. However, there are no straight lines on what is sustainable or not because many factors affect the sustainability of a particular food item.

With the hype on veganism, companies are now putting carbon-neutral labels on their products even when they are not.

Therefore, it is not easy to know which products are carbon neutral and which are not. Even so, eating a vegan diet can be implemented at home with basic ingredients like vegetables.

The downside to some vegetables, like broccoli, is that they do not have as many calories as the body needs for energy. Therefore, a vegetable-only diet is not sustainable in the long run.

Products like Quorn and tofu, however, can substitute meat products and provide your body with the nutrients it needs to operate. As scientists continue to find solutions to global warming, others are coming up with meat substitutes that contain the same amount of nutrients you would get from the actual meat.

Hopefully, a few years from now, the vegan diet will be more diverse and sustainable in terms of environmental conservation and health benefits. As it stands, the carbon footprint of a vegan diet is low because of the less energy required to produce.

Many factors affect the amount of carbon emitted in each food choice, but the emissions for a vegan diet cannot beat those from cattle farming.

Vegan Graham Crackers Carbon Footprint (Lowest Carbon Footprint Foods)

Vegan Graham crackers are some of the foods advertised as carbon neutral, meaning they have a low carbon footprint compared to other foods.

The crackers are estimated to have 52 grams of CO2eq per serving, which is not as bad as other foods.

Carbon Footprint of Tofu

Tofu is a plant-based protein source made by pressing soy milk curds into blocks.8 It is highly nutritious, and vegans use it to replace other protein sources, like meats that pollute the environment.3

The carbon footprint of tofu is estimated to be 0.70 kg CO2e per 1/2 cup, which is 12.5 times lower than beef.4

Vegan Carbon Footprint Calculator (How To Calculate The Carbon Footprint of Vegan Diet)

What a vegan saves every day:

  • 30 sq ft. of forest
  • 1,100 gallons of water
  • 40 lbs of grain
  • 20 lbs of CO2
  • 1 animal life

How To Reduce Food Carbon Footprint

You can reduce your food carbon footprint by changing how you shop and cook, and what you eat. Most people are already making these changes in their lives.

However, changing a diet is not as easy as it sounds. It involves a lifestyle change, which might not be easy for most people.

Here are some tips to help you reduce your food carbon footprint.

Stop Food Waste

Once you throw away food, it decomposes and produces methane, which is a very dangerous greenhouse gas that will contribute even more to global warming. Avoid cooking or buying food that will end up in the trash can to prevent too much wastage.

Also, ensure you serve food you can finish to avoid throwing it out.

Avoid Plastic Packaging

Plastics contribute greatly to environmental pollution, which is why you should avoid them at all costs.9 You can start by carrying reusable shopping bags to the supermarket or carrying a reusable water bottle.

Store your food in glass containers rather than plastic ones to reduce your carbon footprint and help save the planet.

Cut Down on Meat

Meat, especially beef, is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. You can reduce your carbon footprint of meat by reducing your meat intake and replacing that with other foods that produce less carbon.

If enough people cut meat, there will be less carbon and methane emissions.

Shop Local

The fuel and energy used to transport food items from one place to another also contribute to carbon emissions.

If people buy food from local shops and farmers, there would be no need to transport anything from far away. That means that the carbon emissions from cars or planes would significantly reduce.

Grow Your Own Food

Growing your own food is even better because it means reduced transportation emissions and no plastic bags for wrapping fresh produce. Also, you can use your piece of land and plants to sequester carbon and help mitigate the carbon footprint problem.

Carbon Footprint of Vegan Diet: Low Carbon Footprint Foods

Low-carbon foods are foods that have ingredients with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions. There are various stages of food processing, and each process has its contribution to carbon emissions.

Therefore, the best low-carbon foods are those with the least amount of carbon emissions in all the processes involved in their processing.

According to the Cambridge College Food Carbon scheme,  low-carbon foods are cereals, seasoned vegetables, and fruit. Grains and pulses also fall into that category.10

However, if food is flown across the world and also grown in a heated greenhouse, it will definitely have high carbon emissions. Frozen foods are also high in carbon emissions because they require a lot of energy to maintain.

Below are the conditions that make a meal be considered a low-carbon meal:

  • No hard cheeses
  • No red meat
  • No prolonged freezing
  • Vegan dishes
  • No or limited amounts of air-freighted goods
  • Has seasonal fruit & vegetables/limited heated warehouse-grown produce

How To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint (Ways To Reduce Carbon Footprint at Home)

The individual effort to reduce carbon footprint would be highly beneficial to the global carbon offsetting initiatives. If everyone worked towards reducing their carbon emissions, the planet would do way better than it is doing right now in terms of climate change.
Below are some tips to help you reduce your carbon footprint.

Use Renewable Energy at Home

That includes solar, hydroelectric energy, and wind. Using greener tariffs helps reduce your household emissions and could also save you from the huge energy bills that come with other sources of power like electricity.

Insulate Your Home

Most people use energy to heat their homes during winter or cool it in hotter months. You can reduce the amount of energy you use by insulating your home and hence reduce your carbon emissions.

Buy Energy-Saving Appliances and Bulbs

You can make your home more eco-friendly by using appliances that conserve energy, like energy-saving bulbs. The other way to be energy efficient is to unplug devices when not in use and turn off lights when you do not need them.

Conserve Water

Water is essential, and the more there is, the better humans can survive on earth. Climate change is, however, affecting water bodies and reducing the amount of water humans and animals can drink.

You can contribute to water conservation by only using enough and not leaving your taps running. Another way to conserve water is to reuse water for various chores at home.

Reuse and Recycle

Reusing and recycling are some of the best ways to ensure that there is a clean and safe environment for everyone. Most companies are involved in recycling projects to avoid too much waste from plastics and other pollutants.

You can do the same at home to reduce your carbon footprint

Avoid Single-Use Plastics

Plastics are bad for the environment in every aspect. You should therefore ensure you do not buy or carry plastic bags that will end up in the trash after use.

Buy reusable containers for anything you want to carry, like food and water.

Buy Food Locally

Buying your food from local farmers and shops means you will not have to travel to buy or ship the food from other places. That equals fewer carbon emissions because no planes or cars are required to transport the food.

Cycle or Walk to Nearby Places

You can decide to walk or ride a bicycle to nearby places instead of using a car that burns fuel and emits carbon. Walking and cycling are forms of exercise that could benefit your physical and overall health.

Use Public Transport

If everyone uses a personal car to go about their business, that means the number of cars on the road will increase and, in turn, the carbon emissions. Use public transport to reduce the number of cars emitting carbon on the roads.

Raise Awareness About Carbon Emissions and Footprint

Talk about carbon footprint and the impact on the environment with people around you to create awareness and help reduce the carbon footprint.

Fly Less

The air travel industry also contributes greatly to the global carbon footprint, with hundreds of flights flying every month. One way to reduce the carbon footprint of flights is to avoid them as much as possible.

You can do that by making local trips. You could also offset your carbon by buying carbon credits that come with flight tickets.

Eat Less Meat

Meat, especially from ruminants like cows and goats, is among the major carbon emission contributors. They require a lot of land to rear and energy to produce the meat.

Additionally, their four-chambered stomachs process food through fermentation, and methane is a byproduct of the fermentation. Methane is the worst greenhouse gas for the environment.

Aside from reducing meat consumption, individuals can look into a beef and dairy carbon offset to further reduce their carbon emissions.

Avoid Food Wastage

Wasting food is a bad idea, even when it is not about climate. There are places where people are starving due to severe drought, and therefore, food wastage should never happen.

If there were proper food distribution, most people would not lack food to eat. However, food wastage contributes to the carbon footprint because when it decomposes, it emits methane.11

Plant Trees and Shrubs in Your Space

Planting trees and shrubs in your home will help reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Trees can sequester carbon into the soil and take in carbon.

That means having many of them helps save the planet from the constant carbon emissions from different industries.

The debate on which foods are the best to eat to conserve the environment is not straightforward. While a vegan diet has a lower carbon footprint than a meat one, other factors like transportation, processing, and cooking can affect that score.

However, vegan foods usually give the planet a chance to survive the severe effects of climate change. You can start implementing the diet changes discussed in this article in your life to help reduce your carbon footprint.

At the end of the day, the carbon footprint of vegan diet is lower than others, but the conditions mean that staying aware of where your food is grown and how it is shipped is important.

Frequently Asked Questions About Carbon Footprint of Vegan Diet

How Much Does Being Vegetarian Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?

Vegetarian reduces their carbon footprint by 20 lbs every day. You can use the vegan footprint calculator above to measure your daily carbon footprint.

How Does Being Vegan Reduce Carbon Footprint?

Vegans reduce their carbon footprint by eating foods that do not require a lot of energy to produce and do not emit a lot of greenhouse gases.

Is the Vegan Calculator Accurate?

The vegan footprint calculator gives you an estimate of the amount of carbon footprint you are cuting to the environment or saving every day.

Are McDonald's Fries Vegan?

For those wondering, are McDonald’s fries vegan? The answer is no; because they contain beef flavor and are fried in beef fat.

What Are Some of the Low-Carbon Footprint Foods To Eat?

The low-carbon foods include cereals, fruit, pulses, grain, and seasoned vegetables.12 Some meats like chicken and pork could also be considered low carbon compared to meats from ruminants.

How Can I Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Vegan Diet?

By buying the food from local stores, growing it on your farm, avoiding freezing it, and using energy-efficient methods to cook it.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Meat and Dairy?

The carbon footprint of meat and dairy is typically higher than veggies, but it all depends on a number of factors.

Read More About Carbon Footprint of Vegan Diet


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