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If you’re the kind of person who would make a lifestyle change based on its impact on the climate, you’re probably already aware that your food choices affect the molecular balance of the atmosphere in ways pertinent to life as we know it.

By some estimates, half of human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are released by the production, transport, preparation and subsequent waste of food. And thanks to population growth and economic development around the world, that portion is steadily growing.

This reality has spawned a foodie tribe known as the climatarians, members of which, according to the New York Times, adhere to a “diet whose whose primary goal is to reverse climate change.” You might think of climatarians as allies to the locavores, fellow do-gooders trying to save the world by eating carefully. But their agendas are not always aligned. It turns out that the distance food travels, while important, makes less of a difference to the carbon footprint than how that food was produced.


Many studies indicate concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, are more efficient than raising grass-fed animals because the operations benefit from the economics of scale. They are more efficient, the animals grow faster, and are ready for slaughter sooner, so they end up producing less methane over the course of their lives. The emission of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, is a big reason animal products are shunned altogether by many climatarians.

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