The Nutty Carbon Footprint
Lee Kia En
According to a study by the University of Oxford, food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, contributing significantly to global warming. From the farming to the processing to the transporting, the global food supply chain indeed leaves a huge environmental impact with its energy and water consumption. With the effects of global warming already seen around the world from hotter temperatures to more severe storms, there is a need to reduce GHG emissions from all areas of human activities.
However, it seems like our hands are tied. On one hand, we need food to survive. On the other hand, the long term effect of the GHG emissions will lead to global warming, sea level rising and numerous species extinction. How can we tackle our carbon footprint if food is literally on the line?
Well, what is key towards reducing GHG emissions in food production is actually being more environmentally conscious on our food choices. Different types of food production emit different levels of GHG. Animal products take up more than half of such emissions with half of the animal products emission coming solely from beef and lamb. Our choice in food affects the demand of the food which in turn influences the production and supply. If beef consumption is reduced, the number of cows needed to meet demand will be reduced, reducing methane emission from cows. Most people know cows are the number one agricultural source of greenhouse gases worldwide.
But do you know what food product results in one of the least carbon footprint? The answer is simple: Nuts!
While different nuts have different levels of GHG emissions, it can be widely acknowledged that overall, nut farms and production have one of the least amount of GHG emissions. Our World in Data states that nuts emit just 0.26kg of GHG per 100 grams of protein while beef emits around 49.89kg. This is largely due to differences in land usage and farming processes.
While herding cows involves clearing land for grazing, nuts involve planting nut trees. This means that while the former removes carbon sinks in the world, nut farms actually introduce trees into the environment which in turn take in carbon dioxide and become carbon sinks.
Furthermore, nuts like macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and brazil nuts do not require significant amounts of water and mineral upkeep either, making them even better alternative sustainable sources of fat, fibre and protein. In fact, dieticians have suggested treating nuts as a meat substitute. Research by the Harvard School of Public Health has also shown that by replacing one serving of red meat with one serving of nuts, mortality risk can be reduced by 19%.
So how can one introduce nuts into their daily life and reduce their own carbon footprint? It can be quite jarring to just substitute breakfast, lunch or dinner with a handful of nuts. Well, we do not have to consume nuts purely in its natural form. Be it butter, milk or cheese, many have looked towards using nuts as dairy substitutes, especially for people with lactose intolerance. Alternatively, there are many recipes available with using nuts to make faux meat.
Alas, with nuts having minimal carbon footprint and being highly nutritious, perhaps nuts should be the way to go in the future.