As summer brings us warmer days and longer evenings, many of us are excited to gather our loved ones and indulge in the age-old tradition of barbecuing. However, amidst the joyous feasting, it is crucial to pause and contemplate the potential impact our meals may have on the planet.
The global food system, encompassing the production, processing, and distribution of the world’s food, leaves a substantial environmental footprint. Shockingly, this system is responsible for almost one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Fascinating research, co-authored in 2020, indicates that the manner in which we cook our food significantly contributes to these emissions.
Delving further into the environmental consequences of barbecues, experts have discovered that a typical barbecue for four individuals releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than a 170-mile car journey. However, before you cancel your plans, here are five actionable steps you can take to minimize the environmental impact of your barbecue.
- Embrace Alternatives to Beef Burgers
The simplest way to reduce the carbon footprint of your barbecue is to look beyond the traditional beef burgers. A study conducted in 2018 revealed that producing a medium-sized beef burger (100g) generates a staggering 3,750g of CO₂, equivalent to the emissions produced by driving 15 miles in a fossil fuel-powered vehicle. This high emission level is primarily attributed to the methane expelled by cows during digestion and the release of greenhouse gases from their manure decomposition.
Opting for chicken can significantly lower the environmental impact of your menu. According to the same research, producing 100g of chicken (a small chicken breast) is associated with a mere 870g of CO₂ emissions, equivalent to driving 3.5 miles in a car.
For an even greater reduction in your barbecue’s environmental footprint, consider planning a vegan menu. By replacing beef burgers with vegan sausages, substituting butter with vegetable spread, and avoiding pouring cream on your strawberries, you can slash the emissions of your four-person barbecue from over 40,000g of CO₂ to just over 10,000g of CO₂.
- Prioritize Plant-Based Options
Many animals consume several times more calories than they provide to humans when consumed. For instance, a calf consumes over 40,000 calories daily, yet only 2% of these calories are retained in the form of beef. This phenomenon explains why plant-based alternatives are associated with lower emissions.
Incorporating beans, whether in salads or as burgers, can be an excellent addition to your barbecue. Beans are rich in protein, and legumes, such as lentils and peas, have the unique ability to convert nitrogen from the air into a usable form for plants. Consequently, these crops require less fertilizer, reducing their environmental impact.
- Bid Farewell to Charcoal
The method you employ to cook your food significantly influences its emissions. As revealed by our earlier research, home cooking accounts for up to 61% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, owing to varying emission levels associated with different cooking methods and appliances.
While charcoal may be favored by barbecue purists, it is essential to acknowledge that the energy used in its production often originates from the burning of fossil fuels. A study suggests that the emissions produced in the production and burning of a 500g bag of charcoal equate to approximately 5,000g of CO₂.
Opting for a gas barbecue or preparing your food indoors under the grill, on the other hand, results in a mere 200g of CO₂ emissions. Slow cookers also boast a comparably low environmental footprint. Therefore, if you possess one and plan to cook meat, consider serving dishes like pulled pork.
- Mindful Beverage Choices
Beverages are an integral part of any barbecue experience, but they too can contribute to environmental harm. When it comes to choosing drinks, whether soft or alcoholic, it is crucial to consider their packaging and its impact on the planet.
For instance, a single bottle of beer alone is responsible for emitting almost half a kilogram of greenhouse gases, with more than a quarter of these emissions originating from the production and transportation of the glass bottle.
To address this issue, opting for larger drinks containers can be a simple yet effective solution. If you anticipate consuming a significant amount of beer, consider purchasing a barrel or keg. When it comes to soft drinks, buying them in larger containers and ensuring the proper recycling of cans and bottles can make a substantial difference. Additionally, it’s worth noting that tap water has the lowest emissions of all beverage options.
- Minimize Food Waste
In the United Kingdom, a staggering 70% of food waste occurs within our homes. Astonishingly, one out of every four potatoes goes uneaten and ends up in the bin.
However, with a little planning, it is entirely possible to organize a waste-free barbecue. Keep sandwich bags or containers on hand to store any leftovers. This way, you won’t have to feel guilty about discarding food, and your guests can even enjoy a delicious meal the following day while saving money.
If you do find yourself with leftover food that cannot be given away or repurposed, such as burnt sausages, make sure to dispose of them properly. If your locality offers food waste collection services, it is advisable to utilize them rather than sending the food to a landfill, as this contributes to further environmental degradation.
The global food system plays a significant role in greenhouse gas emissions, necessitating our mindful consideration of the climate impact of our meals. However, this does not mean that we cannot relish the joy of a barbecue during the summer season. By making small changes to our food choices and cooking methods, we can savor our barbecues while remaining conscious of our planet’s well-being.
As summer unfolds, let us seize the opportunity to gather outdoors, enjoy the company of loved ones, and make eco-friendly choices that contribute to a more sustainable future. Together, we can revel in the delights of summer barbecues while taking responsible actions to protect the environment for generations to come.