White Americans' Food Choices Are Contributing Disproportionately to Climate Change

A new study finds that more greenhouse gases are emitted producing the typical diet of a white American than that of a Hispanic or African American.
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"It's very clear that whites are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gases emitted as a result of their food choices," researchers write.

Would you like to limit your carbon footprint? Environmentally conscious people often try to do so through measures like recycling, avoiding driving, and turning down the thermostat. But doing everything you can also mean changing your diet—and that goes especially for white people.

A just-published study finds that more greenhouse gases are emitted producing the typical diet of a white American than that of a Hispanic or African American.

A research team led by Joe F. Bozeman III of the University of Illinois–Chicago reports that whites produced an average of 680 kilograms of carbon dioxide each year that can be directly linked to their diet. That compares to 640 kilograms for Latinos, and only 600 for black Americans.

"While the differences may not be enormous, these numbers are per individual," Bozeman noted in announcing the findings. "When you add up all of those individuals, it's very clear that whites are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gases emitted as a result of their food choices."

The study, in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, used data from the Environmental Protection Agency database that estimates per-capita consumption for more than 500 foods, as well as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The researchers focused on foods that are considered "environmentally intense," in that they require more water, land, and/or energy to produce, and thus contribute more greenhouse gases to the environment.

One such item, beef, was consumed at near-equal levels among whites, Hispanics, and blacks. But several others were consumed by whites at significantly greater levels, including milk, wheat, and potatoes. (Jokes about white people's love for Wonder Bread turn out to be entirely appropriate.)

The researchers found that typical diets of African Americans required more land to produce than those of the other groups. But white Americans' food choices required the greatest use of water, a resource that is getting scarcer as the planet warms.

"Whites tend to drink more water and milk," Bozeman explained. "Milk itself requires a lot of water to produce when you consider livestock cultivation, so that is part of what we think is pushing [white people's] water impacts higher."

The good news is there are no laws requiring you to align your diet with people who share your skin color. Indeed, this information gives white people another reason to eschew that lunch of a burger, fries, and a milkshake. It's not only bad for you; it's also problematic for the planet.

And even if the shake is not vanilla, that meal is very, very white.

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