The Banana Index: Interactive

In April, The Economist proposed a new metric for measuring the climate impact of food. The motivating factor was that while most plant-based foods are "better" for the environment that most meat-based ones, they also contain fewer calories and less protein, and therefore more of them are needed to make up a full meal or diet.

The Economist thus weighted carbon emissions by kilocalorie, gram of protein or gram of fat produced by each kind of food. They then expressed this relative environmental impact in units of bananas - how much CO2 is emitted per kcal compared to the same ratio for bananas.

Unsurprisingly, beef (and meat in general) produces a lot of CO2 no matter how you slice it. But are carbon emissions the only environmental impact worth considering? When I found the raw data, I discovered that several other impacts had been measured for the same foodstuffs, including land use, water use, and eutrophication (pollution from fertilizer run-off).

My thanks for Agustín Formoso for his original riff and link to the raw data.

Carbon footprint per Kilocalories produced (per )

  • Meat
  • Veg
  • Dairy
  • Bread
  • Other

Some of these other impacts don't look as bad for burger-lovers. When looking at scarcity-weighted water use, for example, some types of plant-crops, as well as some kinds of nuts and mushrooms, seem to rank pretty poorly.

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