Often when we’re sitting down to our meals, we don’t think about the impact that the foods we’re eating are having on our planet. The production cycles behind a lot of our foods have a large carbon footprint, or require a lot of water, or drive deforestation. So it’s really important to be aware of which foods are good or bad for the environment and to shop sustainably.
Not all food is bad for the environment, and you can take a look at foods that have a positive impact here. But here are some foods to watch out for as being surprisingly bad for our planet.
The environmental impact of bananas isn't so much in the production of the fruit, but more in the cost of exporting them to other countries across the world.
According to One Green Planet, bananas are among the most widely consumed foods in the world, and are the most popular fruit in the United States. The average American will eat about 100 bananas in a single year.
The world’s leading countries for banana exports include Ecuador, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Guatemala — which send a lot of bananas to Europe, where people have got used to being able to eat their favourite fruits even when they’re out of season.
But these bananas have travelled huge distances — to reach the UK, for example, the average banana travels 5,106 miles — and that journey contributes to CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
This one might hurt a few people. For all you fans of guacamole and avocado on toast it might be time to reconsider — because, you guessed it, avocado production is damaging the environment.
In Mexico, for example, a great deal of avocado production takes place in the mountains of Michoacán. But, according to the Associated Press news agency, the production and planting of avocado trees uses twice as much water as a fairly dense forest.
A researcher from Mexico’s National Institute for Forestry revealed that between 2001 and 2010, avocado production tripled in Michoacán — and that the rise in demand for avocados had caused the loss of about 1,700 acres a year.
Another issue with avocado production, according to Greenpeace Mexico, is the use of chemicals and high volumes of wood to pack and ship the fruits to other countries.
3. Almond milk
As much as people love almond milk as a healthier and, some say, better tasting substitute to regular milk, its production also has a significant environmental impact.
According to the Guardian, more than 80% of the world's almonds come from California — a region known for some of the worst droughts in US history.
The report, “Sugar and the Environment”, says that more than 145 million tonnes of sugar are produced in 121 countries each year.
But the production of this sugar destroys natural habitats, requires intensive use of water and the use of damaging agro-chemicals, and causes air pollution.
In the Indian state of Maharashtra, for example, sugarcane covers 3% of the land — but it corners 60% of the irrigation supply, and so causes substantial groundwater loss in the area.
5. Soy beans
Soy beans mainly grow in Latin America — but the rising demand is causing deforestation across the region.
Almost 4 million hectares of forest land are destroyed every year, according to the Telegraph, with victims including the Amazon, the Gran Chaco, and the Atlantic forests.
With soy increasingly being used in place of dairy products — which can also have a devastating impact — it goes to show that even with the best of intentions, when it comes to the global food industry there are few guarantees that we’ll get it right.
One staple food item you’re likely to find as a prominent part of dishes in a lot of countries across the world is rice.
While more than half of the world’s population depend on it as a food source, the production of rice accounts for as much as a third of the planet’s annual freshwater, according to a report from Oxfam. To produce a kilo of rice, for example, it takes 2,497 litres of water, according to the Guardian.
What’s more, research into a rapid global rise in methane emissions in 2016 surprisingly found that some of the increase can be pinned on the activities of microbes in wetlands and rice paddies.
Beef has become something of a villain when it comes to the negative impacts of our global foodindustry.
When you compare it to other food items such as rice, for example, and potatoes or wheat, beef needs 160 times more land, and releases 11 times more greenhouse gases.
You can read more about the negative impact of beef production here.
If beef was a hard one for meat lovers to digest, then coffee lovers are not going to like this bit.
Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world and, for many of us, it’s one of life’s essentials.
For coffee, most of the environmental damage comes in finding space to grow the beans. Most commonly, coffee beans are produced in Latin America. Yet, with an increased demand, farmers have cleared 2.5 million acres of forest in Central America to make way for production.
A report by the WWF highlights the link between coffee productions and environmental damage — showing that 37 of the worst 50 countries for deforestation rates are also coffee producers.