Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

The higher environmental impact of white eating habits

The higher environmental impact of white eating habits
27 May
2019
White people’s eating habits in the US have a higher environmental impact than those of black and Latinx individuals, according to a new study

Our food preferences have a direct impact on the environment. However, previous research has largely ignored the results that demographics have to play,’ says Joe Bozeman, introducing his research into the eating habits of US citizens. Spotting this gap, he and his colleagues from the University of Illinois at Chicago set out to evaluate the environmental impact of the foods eaten by three different racial groups in the US – white, black and Latinx.

Using research from existing databases, including the US Environmental Protection Agency’s What We Eat in America – Food Commodity Intake Database – which provides per capita food consumption estimates for more than 500 types of food, Bozeman concluded that white people’s eating habits result in higher greenhouse gas emissions than those of either black or Latinx people.

To determine the amount of greenhouse gases attributed to each foodstuff, the researchers compiled ‘cradle to farm-gate’ statistics which take into account the entire food pipeline, from production to distribution and finally to waste. According to this analysis, white individuals produce an average of 680kg of carbon dioxide each year that can be directly linked to what they eat and drink, while Latinx individuals produce 640kg and blacks 600kg. The researchers also evaluated the amount of water, land and energy required to produce different foodstuffs, which revealed that the food habits of white people require about seven per cent more water (at 328,000 litres per year) than Latinx individuals (just 307,000 litres). On the other hand, black people’s eating habits depend on about 12 per cent more land than other populations, attributed in part to higher consumption of chicken and apples.

WEBshutterstock 1377445121Milk and blueberries were two of the most significant foods contributing to the higher emissions of white eating habits

The differences can be put down to a number of different foods and preferences, though a few high-impact items do stand out in the research. ‘Whites tend to drink more water and milk,’ explains Bozeman. ‘Milk consumption has a huge impact because of the cultivation of livestock to produce the milk and because of the water involved. But also lesser-known food items such as blueberries happened to be a huge component. The white demographic doesn’t necessarily consume the most overall fruit, but they consume the most blueberries which happen to take around seven times more water to produce per kilogram than apples.’

For Bozeman, this research is more than just a novel experiment. He believes that taking demographics into consideration can improve policies related to climate change, making them more targeted and therefore more efficient. ‘A good example is corn,’ he explains. ‘In the midwestern region of the US, corn is expected to have a reduction in output by 2050 due to climate change and precipitation changes. It may be that in the northern part of Illinois, where the white demographic dominates, [they might] consume corn at a higher rate than the black demographic which dominates southern Chicago. That black demographic might not need as much corn for their diets and might be more willing to change. So there’s a myriad of complex relationships that could be looked at to really make policy work for the zones we are writing for, rather than just writing policies and hoping people will abide by them.’

 This was published in the June 2019 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

DurhamBath Spa600x200 Greenwich Aberystwythherts

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

Cultures

'The British Isles' by Jamie Hawkesworth is a celebration of…

Development

A technique that uses bacteria to leach precious metals from…

Cultures

Hadani Ditmars explores the Iranian neighbourhoods of Vancouver, where the…

Development

Overshadowed by the uncertainty surrounding the Tokyo games, the Olympics…

Cultures

High in protein, antioxidants and requiring little space. What’s not…

Cultures

Snake wine is sold openly all over Southeast Asia but,…

Explorers

Going out into the world’s wildernesses or performing extraordinary feats…

I’m a Geographer

Chris Morgan is an ecologist and award-winning conservationist, educator, TV…

Global Health

The technology of mRNA-based vaccines – first approved for immunising…

People

The decades-long decline in hunger has now ended, despite the…

Explorers

Trapped at home in Vancouver during the pandemic, but with…

Cultures

The dramatic scenery of the Jurassic Coast and the fossils…

Global Health

With millions of lives at stake, scientists have accelerated research…

Explorers

Polar explorer Felicity Aston and her Icelandic husband took on…

Development

Pressure is mounting on steelmakers to decarbonise, but it’s proving…

Development

 Traditional methods of design and construction have led to a…