The smell of roasting turkey fills the house. The table is crammed with crackers… It must be Christmas.
We all have traditions that make December 25th special - from icy morning strolls to festive jumper competitions. Christmas dinner might be the most important of all.
But the choices we make don’t just impact on our waistlines. The food we eat is responsible for almost a third of global emissions. And meat contributes more to climate change than all the planes, trains, cars, and ships in the world. The average Christmas turkey is responsible for the equivalent of more than 33 kg of CO2.
Those of us opting for something different on our plates aren’t off the hook either. Just 1kg of beef might be responsible for up to 129kg of climate-changing emissions. 1kg of lamb might contribute up to 150kg. That’s the same carbon footprint as flying from London to Berlin for your Christmas dinner.
The climate isn’t the only casualty. If your roast isn’t labelled as organic or free range, it is likely to have been intensively farmed, where health problems are widespread and antibiotic use is high.
With that many animals crowded together, the huge amounts of manure produced can leak ammonia and nitrous oxide, destroying surrounding soils, and polluting water courses. And unless your meat is 100% grass fed, it will have been fed on a diet including imported soy, which is not only responsible for rainforest destruction in Latin America but is likely to be genetically modified too.
What we’re eating and how it was produced has a greater impact on our planet than how far it has travelled. But this doesn’t make it any less bonkers that our Brussel sprouts may have journeyed over 300 miles across Europe to make it to your plate – despite the fact they’re grown across the UK throughout December.
When dinner ends, don’t forget to think outside of the bin. Every year we throw away 5 million Christmas puddings, 2 million turkeys, and 74 million mince pies – and with thousands going hungry across the UK, that can’t be right.
So this year, why not have a low-impact Christmas? Give the meat a break, or invest in something reared ethically and sustainably. Buy local where you can, and think before you buy it or bin it to avoid needless food waste.
We’re predicted to spend £19bn on food and drink over Christmas and New Year. So take the chance to cook up something better this year, and make sure your plate is planet friendly.
Kierra Box is a Campaigner in Friends of the Earth's Land use, Food and Water Security team.