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Christmas dinner has a large environmental impact

With the holiday season fast approaching, a team of researchers led by the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) and McGill University has estimated the environmental footprint of a traditional Christmas meal in Canada. The experts found that meat-based meals have a much higher carbon footprint than vegetarian or vegan ones, thus negatively contributing to the climate crisis our planet currently faces.

By using the Life Cycle Assessment Tool (LCA) – a technique that helps scientists estimate the potential impact of lifestyle choices on global warming, biodiversity loss, or water pollution – the researchers compared the environmental impact of typical holiday foods with other food with smaller ecological footprints. 

The analysis revealed that a typical Canadian Christmas meal consisting of a roast ham, pork pie, and a slice of fruit cake, consumes up to 70 percent of a person’s daily carbon budget, according to the targets set at the Paris Agreement, which aim to maintain global temperatures lower than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Thus, the large carbon footprint of such a meal leaves little room for other Christmas-related activities such as heating, transportation, or gift buying.

According to the researchers, ham roast and pork pie have a significantly higher impact than all the food consumed in a day by an average person in Canada on a typical omnivorous diet, confirming that the food usually consumed during holidays increases substantially our carbon footprint. 

On the other hand, a meal consisting of a vegetable pie, vegan Wellington, and vegan cake would only use about 14 percent of an individual’s carbon budget, along with a very small parcel of land where these vegetables had to be cultivated.

These findings are quite sobering in a context in which we are strongly encouraged to limit our personal carbon footprint to 2.9 tons of CO2 equivalent per year in order to reach the 1.5C target set by the Paris Agreement, or about eight kilograms per day for all goods and services, including food.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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