The environmental impact of food

Climate and Ecology coordinator Carole Destre talks us through how we can buy and eat food in an environmentally friendly way.

Did you know that the last meat burger you ate may have been lip-licking delicious, but also harmful to the environment?  What we eat in general has a big effect on the planet.

Have you ever thought about how the food you eat ends up in your plate? What happens to it before it arrives on the supermarket shelves or on the stall of your local market?

What is the environmental impact of food?

Producing meat, involves many stages. It needs vast areas of land to plant the food for the cattle and huge quantities of water to grow it. This results in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

These gas emissions (such as CO2, methane, and a few others) can be caused by our daily activities, such as driving to work, flying by plane, heating our homes. They gather around the earth like a blanket and make it too warm.

When it comes to meat, the gases come mainly from fossil fuels. These are burned to run tractors, harvesters and lorries. They also come from the decomposition of cow manure, as well as cow burps and farts!

Find out more about the impact of your burger. 

I have a 9 year old daughter who loves wildlife. She is trying to do the right thing to help animals and plants survive the climate crisis. Here are some things we have been trying at home.

Reducing our meat consumption

We only eat meals containing meat once or twice a week. It’s not always that easy, as my daughter loves sausages and roast chicken as well as live animals! However, she understands why it is important to eat less meat, so she tries her best.

If you love meat, try to reduce the amount you eat, rather than removing it from your diet completely. You could do this by:

  • Reducing your portion size
  • Mixing meat with leftovers such as other meats or vegetables like mushrooms
  • Having a no meat meal once a week.

Did you know: choosing a veggie burger over a beef burger saves 1,000 grams of CO2

Did you know: four beef burgers causes the equivalent of burning 1.2L of petrol

If you make an environmentally-friendly burger send us a picture and the recipe. We can share them on our Environment Champions Club Facebook group.

Less dairy milk

Luckily my daughter does not like cow’s milk, so it was easy to switch to oat ‘milk’. You could try other substitutes but oat ‘milk’ has one of the best environmental footprints.

Initially I did miss the taste of milk in my tea, but now I do like it.

Milk alternatives are a bit more expensive than normal milk, so you may want to just reduce how much milk you use. It makes a difference even if you can’t do it all the time.

You can find cheese alternatives too. I can’t swap real cheese with anything else – perhaps I am too French – so I only eat cheese at the weekend as a treat. Reducing is better than nothing!

Did you know: taking tea or coffee without milk saves 32 grams of CO2. Milk accounts for two thirds of a cup of tea.

Eat seasonally

We try to eat fruit and vegetables that grow during their natural season. At the moment, in spring, we eat things like:

  • Grated celeriac with a lemon and mustard dressing
  • Sweet potato
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach.

Find vegetables according to their season 

What are your preferred spring vegetables? What recipes do you like them in? Take a photo of some of your favourite no-meat recipes and share it on our Facebook group.

Buy local

We try to buy fruit and vegetables that do not come from far away. The further they have to travel from, the bigger the carbon footprint. You could try visiting a local market, if you have one.

You could also try to grow some vegetables on your balcony, garden, allotment or community garden. That will be really local!

Have fun with new recipes, get creative and bring friends or neighbours along for the ride. You can still treat yourself to the food you love and reduce your environmental footprint.


  • Carbon emissions– harmful gases such as carbon dioxide are released into the earth’s atmosphere when we use fossil fuels (coal and oil) to provide energy. We need energy to grow, produce and transport food. Some food uses more energy than others.
  • Local– a place close to where you live. Fruit and vegetables that were grown near you would be considered local. A shop in your town would be a local shop as opposed to a shop you had to travel to.
  • Transport– moving people, animals, or items for sale like food from one place to another. Food can travel by car, bus, lorry, boat and plane. These methods of transport all need a lot of energy.

Join the Environment Champions Club



Join our free virtual club for families, and help tackle the climate and ecological crisis. Sign up to the newsletter for monthly updates and join our Facebook group for all of the activities.

Join now

What are we doing about it?

As part of our climate and ecology manifesto at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, we have already made a number of changes around the food in our café.

  • Vegan and vegetarian food now makes up more than 30% of our Café menu.
  • The Café serves fair trade tea and coffee, organic milk, free-range eggs, fish from sustainable sources and locally sourced meat, as well as local beer and cakes.
  • In 2018 our Café replaced 26 items of single-use plastic with Vegware products made from plant materials, including straws, coffee cups, sandwich wrappers and takeaway food boxes. This has removed approximately 200,000 single-use items of plastic per year from our footprint.
  • We have also replaced bottled water with CanO Water, taking 24,000 plastic bottles out of circulation.
  • We have two drinking fountains on site – a Victorian fountain near the Bandstand and a new water refill point near the main entrance, one of more than 20 across London provided by #OneLessand the Mayor of London, as part of the London Drinking Fountain Fund. The Café also offers free tap water refills.

Find out more about what we’ve done so far.