Low-Carbon Diet Takes a Bite Out of Global Warming

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Three times a day, millions of Americans sink their teeth into a meal that’s loaded with either risk or opportunity. Our food choices can cool down or heat up the planet.


With recent science validating that our breakfasts, lunches and dinners—even our snacks—are producing one-third of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, food is in the crosshairs as a major cause of global warming. The energy used to grow, store, transport and process food is heating the planet. Waste from half-eaten meals that rot in the garbage generates significant gasses, too.

Take a common lunch favorite, the burger. Beef is a carbon-intensive food, as is cheese. Even lettuce and tomato, if plopped onto a burger when they’re not in season, have a real impact—as do bacon and French fries.

Rather than simply giving burgers a bad rap, the Low-Carbon Diet demonstrates how ecologically responsible individuals can still satisfy their cravings for high-carbon food favorites. Diners can make their own choices, enjoy their meals and take individual action to stop global warming.

You can measure how your food choices affect the environment with the Low-Carbon Diet Calculator (right), created by Bon Appétit Management Co. It works according to a point system, similar in concept to Weight Watchers. It’s easy to use and designed for all types of eaters—from burger-and-fries fans to organic farmer’s market aficionados.

The calculator allows you to “drag and drop” menu items into your virtual pan. Common breakfast, lunch and dinner favorites are on the menu, along with build-your-own options that consider portion size and cooking methods. Diners can choose from sample meals, lowering their carbon points to the minimum level possible, while still leaving room for a few guilty pleasures. What matters are the total carbon dioxide–emissions points on your plate.

You can also use the calculator with your mobile phone. Jut text LCD and the food item you’re considering to 69866, and you’ll discover in real time whether your bean and cheese burrito or kung pao chicken is heating the planet. (Standard text messaging rates apply.)

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