For Day 4 of her 30 day One Meal a Day for the Planet challenge, Oprah had a beans and rice dish with added vegetables. The recipe, by Oprah’s chef Raymond Weber, can be found in Oprah’s food diary online. This recipe has a carbon footprint of 272 g CO2EQ per serving (serves 6), while a recipe with a 50/50 mix of beef and beans has a carbon footprint of 2,989 g CO2EQ per serving. The difference in carbon footprint is equivalent to the emissions in driving over 12 miles in a 40 MPG car. A similar savings every day adds up to about 4,500 miles driven in a year.
Plant foods in general have relatively low carbon footprints, and beans have a particular low carbon footprint of 0.78 g CO2EQ per g. This is because all legumes, such as beans and lentils, don’t need energy-intensive nitrogen fertilizer. For comparison, estimates of beef’s carbon footprint range from 26 to 40 g CO2EQ per gram. (For these calculations, we used the more conservative value of 26 g CO2EQ per g.) Beef’s footprint is so high largely due to the methane that is naturally produced by the animal.
The 30 day challenge was inspired by Suzy Cameron’s new book The OMD Plan.
Many thanks to @UCLA student Rachel Tsao and Claire Miller for their help on this recipe’s calculations and graphic.
Carbon footprint data are from: Heller, M.C. and G.A. Keoleian. 2014. Greenhouse gas emission estimates of U.S. dietary choices and food loss. Journal of Industrial Ecology.
Harwatt et al. (2017) Substituting beans for beef as a contribution toward US climate change targets. Climate Change.