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Scientists reveal the 10 worst dishes for the environment – including several VEGAN options


With rain forecast across much of the UK this evening, many Britons will be planning to snuggle up on the sofa and order a takeaway. 

But a new study may make you rethink your options. 

Scientists in Singapore have revealed the popular dishes that are the worst for the environment. 

Many of these dishes are meat-based, such as Brazilian steak, chicken jalfrezi and spicy beef stew.

However, you might be surprised to learn that several others, including kidney bean curry and lentil soup, are plant-based. 

With rain forecast across much of the UK this evening, many Britons will be planning to snuggle up on the sofa and order a takeaway. But a new study may make you rethink your options. Scientists in Singapore have revealed the popular dishes that are the worst for the environment

With rain forecast across much of the UK this evening, many Britons will be planning to snuggle up on the sofa and order a takeaway. But a new study may make you rethink your options. Scientists in Singapore have revealed the popular dishes that are the worst for the environment 

What is a biodiversity footprint? 

Biodiversity footprint is how much human activity affects plants, animals and other organisms on Earth. 

It considers the amount of land, water, and other resources we use and how this use affects the diversity and abundance of other species. 

It’s different from carbon footprint – how much carbon dioxide is released as a result of our activities. 

Usually, scientists warn of carbon footprints, which refer to how much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere as a result of our activities. 

Instead, this study looked at the ‘biodiversity footprint’, which refers to the extent habitats of plant and animal species are affected. 

An example is deforestation, the process of cutting down trees often to make space for growing crops, which destroys species’ homes. 

‘The biodiversity footprint gives us an idea of how many species we are pushing close to extinction by eating that dish,’ the authors said. 

For the study, the team estimated how 151 different popular dishes from around the world impact biodiversity. 

While the term ‘biodiversity footprint’ usually includes plants and fungi, the scientists only looked at three classes of animals – mammals, birds and amphibians. 

The authors used lists of popular dishes taken from CNN.com and TasteAtlas.com, standardizing each dish so it had an energy intake of 825 kilocalories (kcal).

They looked at the number of mammals, birds and amphibian species affected by the production of each ingredient, while taking into account their range and conservation status. 

This study looked at the 'biodiversity footprint', which instead refers to the extent habitats of plant and animal species are affected. An example is deforestation - the process of cutting down trees often to make space for growing crops, which destroys species' homes

This study looked at the ‘biodiversity footprint’, which instead refers to the extent habitats of plant and animal species are affected. An example is deforestation – the process of cutting down trees often to make space for growing crops, which destroys species’ homes 

The authors used lists of popular dishes taken from CNN.com and TasteAtlas.com, standardizing each dish to be 825 kCal. They calculated the biodiversity footprint of each dish¿s ingredient by looking at the richness, conservation status, and range of wild mammals, birds, and amphibians within the agricultural land used for the specific product

The authors used lists of popular dishes taken from CNN.com and TasteAtlas.com, standardizing each dish to be 825 kCal. They calculated the biodiversity footprint of each dish’s ingredient by looking at the richness, conservation status, and range of wild mammals, birds, and amphibians within the agricultural land used for the specific product

Overall, the dishes with the largest biodiversity footprints included several Brazilian steak dishes (picanha, churrasco, fraldinha).

Other meat dishes included salsa verde pork, chicken jalfrezi, yukgaejang (a Korean spicy beef and vegetable stew), caldo de pollo (chicken soup).

But the list also included several vegan dishes like dal (lentil soup), rajma (a kidney bean curry), chana masala (chickpea curry) and idli (a fermented savory rice cake).

In addition, there were caldo de queso (a simple soup made up of potatoes, tomato, onions chilies and oregano) and gyeran mari (an omelette with chopped vegetables). 

The scientists say these meals require the clearing of animal habitats to make way for the growth of the ingredients. 

In contrast, the dishes with the smallest biodiversity footprints tended to be vegetarian or vegan, starchy, and grain or potato-based.

Examples include French fry-style recipes like pommes frites and triple cooked chips, kartoffelpuffer (a German potato pancake), and baguettes.

The researchers found the biodiversity footprint scores shifted depending on whether the ingredient was locally or globally sourced, and industrially or small-scale farmed.

Pictured, yukgaejang, a Korean spicy beef and vegetable stew, and one of the worst dishes to impact biodiversity

Pictured, yukgaejang, a Korean spicy beef and vegetable stew, and one of the worst dishes to impact biodiversity

High-biodiversity-footprint dishes tended to be from India and included chicken jalfrezi (type of tomato-based chicken curry), chicken chaat, chana masala, idli (a savoury rice cake, pictured), and rajma (red kidney beans curry)

High-biodiversity-footprint dishes tended to be from India and included chicken jalfrezi (type of tomato-based chicken curry), chicken chaat, chana masala, idli (a savoury rice cake, pictured), and rajma (red kidney beans curry)

Overall, dishes grown with locally-sourced produce could be the best option. 

‘Buying local if based in developed countries like the UK would certainly help reduce the biodiversity footprint,’ study author Professor Román Carrasco at NUS told MailOnline. 

‘One problem with organic food is that it is less efficient to produce and requires more land, leading to trade-offs.’ 

The authors stress that their study is not looking at the carbon emissions of each meal, but rather the extent to which it destroys animal habitats. 

It’s well known that beef is one of the worst food items in terms of carbon emissions, but when considering biodiversity separately the picture is different. 

A future study could combine biodiversity and carbon footprint to find the ultimate environmental impact of various foods.  

According to Professor Carrasco and colleagues, their study can help make ‘sustainable eating decisions more accessible to consumers’. 

‘Small changes in the dish we choose to eat and where we get the ingredients from can go a long way in preventing species extinctions,’ they say in their paper.

‘A combination of consumer awareness to facilitate a transition towards sustainable diets is imperative to mitigate the large impacts of food production on biodiversity.’ 

The study has been published today in the journal PLOS One.  

Graph ranks 'species richness of various food ingredients: Species richness is the number of mammals, birds and amphibians species affected by the production of each ingredient for

Graph ranks ‘species richness of various food ingredients: Species richness is the number of mammals, birds and amphibians species affected by the production of each ingredient for

Is YOUR favourite milk good for the planet? Scientists reveal how different varieties stack up (and it’s bad news for fans of dairy) 

Whether it’s oat, soy, almond or rice, we’ve never had more choices when it comes to pouring milk on cereal or ordering a latte. 

But if you tend to opt for a plant-based alternative to cow’s milk, keep in mind that some are better for the environment than others. 

According to a University of Oxford study, almond milk is the best vegan option if you want to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, while rice milk is the worst.  

However, animal milks are by far the most damaging to the planet overall, the study found, largely due to cows being huge greenhouse gas emitters.

Read more 



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