Which Americans’ Diets Produces the Most Greenhouse Gasses?

The Lempert Report
May 24, 2019

Coming up with climate change solutions with social sensitivity in mind.

White Americans diets produce more greenhouse gases than those of other racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

Popular Science reports on a study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology that found that white people’s diets contribute more to climate change than those of black and Latino people. Specifically, researchers pinpointed foods with the highest environmental impacts and determined their consumption rates among different demographic groups.

Lead researcher Joe Bozeman, a doctoral student at the Institute of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, hopes this novel study will be the first of many that take a more sociological approach to environmental research he told the publication.

“There was a lot more interesting research and publications done in other countries,” Bozeman says. “For whatever reason, there seems to not be as many clear and practical studies done on how race, food, and climate change affected folks in the United States.”

Bozeman and his team used existing studies and data to compile the food-energy-water (FEW) impacts—land usage, water usage, and greenhouse gas emissions—of foods like apples, potatoes, dairy, and meat. They brought in the consumption rates of these foods among white, black, and Latino racial and ethnic groups outlined in the EPA’s “What We Eat in America,” a database that breaks down common foods by the different demographic groups that consume them. Using statistical tests, they determined whether or not the differences between the groups in the consumption of these foods was significant.

While the study found that, on average, black people’s diets use the most land per person, white Americans’ fare uses the most water and emits the highest amounts of greenhouse gases. 

Bozeman says that he hopes that we can begin to frame the conversation about adapting to climate change—and coming up with climate change solutions—with social sensitivity in mind.