Dale Buss

May 2023

Volume 77, No. 4

© SasinParaksa/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Concerned about where the planetary diet might be taking the planetary climate? Then take heart from a recent study which posits that global denizens have made a lot of progress in adopting food-consumption practices that already have taken a bite out of climate change.

Turns out that changing dietary patterns in the United States over the past 15 years already have cut the carbon footprint of national food consumption by more than 35%, according to a study published last year in the Journal of Cleaner Production and led by Clare Bassi, who was then with University of Wisconsin and now is with Third Economy, a sustainability consultancy.

Lower consumption of beef, dairy, chicken, pork, and eggs accounted for more than 75% of the observed diet-related carbon dioxide savings during the study period, with beef alone being responsible for nearly half the drop.

“National greenhouse gas savings from dietary changes alone” over the course of the study period from 2003 to 2018 “are roughly equivalent to offsetting emissions from every single passenger vehicle in the country for nearly two years,” Bassi told On Wisconsin magazine. The study analyzed eating habits reported by more than 39,000 adults in a national survey.

Demographics mattered little: Bassi’s study showed that the diets of every subgroup of Americans categorized by factors including sex, age, race, and household income showed a 30% to 50% reduction in responsibility for diet-related greenhouse gas emissions.

More progress is needed, however. The U.S. diet-related carbon footprint in 2018, the study found, was still twice as high as global targets for minimizing global warming.

“People’s actions are making a difference,” Bassi said. “But we still have a long way to go.”

About the Author

Dale Buss, contributing editor, is an award-winning journalist and book author whose career has included reporting for The Wall Street Journal, where he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize ([email protected]).

Digital Exclusives right arrow

Hidden Opportunities in the Processed Foods Debate

Criticism of processed foods is not new. However, until recently, the finger-pointing was placed squarely on a specific ingredient or nutrient: too much sugar, too much fat, not enough protein.

Speaking Up for Soy

Soy researcher Mark Messina shares his thoughts on the ways in which the NOVA food classification system paints plant-based meat and dairy alternatives in an unfavorable light.

Food Scientists Have Multipronged Role to Play in Sustainability

Speakers at an IFT FIRST multi-session conversation on Tuesday agreed that food scientists have myriad points of influence to drive food and packaging companies’ commitment to sustainability.

Working to Solve the World’s Food Challenges

Members of IFT’s Food & Nutrition Security Steering Committee highlight some of the challenges and solutions they are exploring in an effort to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Food Technology Articles right arrow

Expert Sustainability Insights Exclusively for Members

IFT Members have 24/7 access to a wealth of digital content designed to help them solve problems, expand their knowledge, and gain insights that will help them perform their jobs better, faster, and more efficiently. We’ve curated a collection of sustainability-themed, on demand presentations from last year’s IFT FIRST: Annual Event and Expo just for members, plus our exclusive series on food waste from Food Technology magazine.

The Question: Should We Eat More Processed Foods?

An Oxford debate at this year’s IFT FIRST: Annual Event & Expo tackled the health impacts of processed foods, the legitimacy of NOVA food classification, even the language framing the debate itself.

Gordon Robertson: Rational Thoughts on Sustainable Packaging

This column offers information about developing sustainable food packaging and food packaging challenges and research opportunities.

Cyber-Physical Systems Expand Process Automation Horizons

This column offers information about how cyber-physical systems can enable the high level of control in food processing automation that will be necessary to meet future needs.

Making Packaging Tradeoffs for Commercialization

This column offers information about balancing the many competing package design priorities to produce a commercially successful package.

Recent Brain Food right arrow

A New Day at the FDA

IFT weighs in on the agency’s future in the wake of the Reagan-Udall Report and FDA Commissioner Califf’s response.

Members Say IFT Offers Everything You Need to Prepare for an Uncertain Future

Learn how IFT boosts connections, efficiencies, and inspiration for its members.

More on the FDA's Food Traceability Final Rule

In a new white paper, our experts examine the FDA’s Food Traceability Final Rule implications—and its novel concepts first proposed by IFT.