Some less than brie-lliant news...
Which has a higher carbon footprint: pork, chicken, or cheese? Whilst we hate to be the bearer of bad news for our vegetarian friends - the correct answer is cheese. It might be hard to believe but cheese has a higher carbon footprint than pork, chicken, turkey, farmed-raised salmon, canned tuna, eggs, and potatoes. It actually has a higher carbon footprint than eggs and potatoes combined.
Cheese is a top 3 emitter
When it comes to food, there are only two emitters higher than cheese: beef and lamb. Cheese clocks in with a whopping 13.5 kg of CO2 emission per kilogram. That means a kilogram of cheese is the carbon equivalent of driving almost 34 miles. Eating just 30g of cheese 3-5 times a week for a year will generate 201 kg of greenhouse gas emissions, the same amount could heat the average home in the U.K. for 31 days. It doesn’t end with emissions either: that amount of cheese consumed over a year will use up 47,259 litres of water too.
What makes cheese such a high emitter?
The answer is similar to the reasons beef is damaging to the environment: the high amount of methane released during the raising of cattle for the milk that cheese is made from (it can take around 10 litres of milk to make 1 kg of hard cheese). Other emissions come from unsustainable farming practices like industrial pesticide and fertilizer use and water pollution common to the dairy industry. Unfortunately picking goat’s or sheep’s cheese over cow’s cheese doesn’t seem to improve on the number of emissions either. In fact, sheep’s cheese actually emits more than cow’s cheese as sheep produce more methane than cows.
What’s the most planet-friendly cheese?
While cows are high methane producers regardless of the farm, seeking out cheese made by local farmers using sustainable and organic methods will help shrink the carbon footprint of cheese. Buying soft cheeses like feta, brie, or mozzarella that aren’t aged or as high in fat is also healthier for the planet (and for our bodies) as aging cheese and high-fat cheeses require more processing time which in turn drives up emissions.
You can also bear in mind the litres of milk needed to produce a kilogram of cheese, and this does vary considerably - as Mike Berners-Lee explains in ‘How Bad Are Bananas’ opting for brie or cottage cheese (with a higher yield from milk) over parmesan or ricotta result in emission differences of 6.5-8.8kg and 18.6 or 22.4 kg respectively of CO2 emissions.
The bottom line is that simply replacing meat with a heavy-cheese vegetarian diet doesn’t drastically reduce your food-based lifestyle emissions… So what can we do?
Vegan cheese is getting better, we swear!
Maybe you had a vegan pizza that put you off a couple of years ago.. but we promise that was then! A lot has changed in the past 5 or so years. Vegan cheese making has been revolutionized by the pivot from tofu and soy to nut-based products with techniques that mimic making cheese with dairy milk to create the delicious fatty, gooey, and nutty tastes we crave from cheese. There are even fantastic spreadable and melting options available so you don’t have to skip out on your favorite comfort foods like nachos, bagels with cream cheese, or grilled cheese sandwiches.
Looking for brands to test this out? Try Miyoko’s Creamery if you are in the U.S., Kroodi in Singapore, or Sheese if you are in the U.K. All three brands have incredible options and flavors that could trick any omnivorous cheese lover. Our sustainable app bestie ABillion is packed full of excellent vegan cheese recommendations - check out their 2020 top 20 vegan cheese awards here!
Did hearing about cheese’s carbon footprint shock you? Do you have a vegan cheese recommendation that will win everyone over? We’d love to hear from you! Join the conversation via our Instagram channel or reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org