Good Living hot chips
Good Living hot chips

Explore the relation-chip between food and biodiversity

19 Apr. 2024 5 min read

Looking for quirky dinner-time conversation? Find out which popular food has the lowest impact on biodiversity.

A recent international study examined the biodiversity footprint of 151 popular dishes from around the world. In great news for hot chip lovers, the humble dish took out the spot for the lowest biodiversity impact.

The study got us thinking about how the food we eat affects our biodiversity.

Just as biodiversity and climate change help and hinder one another, the connections between biodiversity and the food on our plates can be hard to see and understand.

Need to ‘ketch-up’? Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life on our planet and how they work together. It’s the plants, fungi, animals and bacteria, from the microscopic to the massive, and the way they function together in ecosystems to support life as we know it.

Unfortunately, biodiversity is under threat globally, as well as here in Australia where we are recognised as having the highest mammal extinction rate in the world. In South Australia, more than 1,100 of our native plant and animal species are at risk of extinction.

What makes hot chips the best dish for biodiversity?

The international study looked at 151 popular dishes from around the world to determine their biodiversity footprint. The study considered factors like where the dish was produced, the variety of native species in that area, and local versus global food production.

Hot chips were revealed to have the lowest impact on biodiversity.

In fact, many starchy dishes comprising mostly potato and/or wheat, including polenta and baguettes, scored low on the list.

The main reason for this is that these foods are often produced in areas and environments that have less species diversity and richness.

In contrast, dishes with beef as the main ingredient, particularly from countries like Brazil and Spain, had some of the highest biodiversity footprints due to extensive land conversion for cattle farming.

Other dishes with high biodiversity footprints included those with chicken, rice, or legumes, mainly from regions like India and Mexico, where agricultural expansion has encroached upon biodiverse areas.

Vegan and vegetarian dishes consistently had lower biodiversity footprints compared to meat-containing dishes.

How does food production affect biodiversity?

It’s all well and good to have another reason to love hot chips, but how do our food choices really affect biodiversity?

It primarily comes down to the fact that habitat loss is one of the largest drivers of biodiversity loss, and unfortunately, is often a part of agriculture and food production. (Chip happens!)

Intensive farming methods often rely on monocultures, where vast swathes of land are dedicated to a single crop.

This not only reduces habitat diversity but also disrupts natural ecosystems, leading to the loss of native plants and animals.

The foods we choose to cultivate can have a significant impact on biodiversity. Supporting a diverse range of crops helps maintain genetic diversity, making our food systems more resilient to pests, diseases, and the effects of climate change.

What’s else is being done to protect biodiversity in South Australia?

To address the biodiversity crisis, the state government has committed to developing a new Biodiversity Act to safeguard nature.

South Australia does not have a dedicated Act to protect biodiversity. Instead, provisions exist across multiple laws, which unfortunately haven’t successfully prevented biodiversity loss.

Developing a new Act and increasing the effectiveness of our legislative framework will allow things to be done differently. The new Act will be an important tool in ensuring the long-term future of South Australia and safeguarding nature for future generations to enjoy.

To learn more about the Act’s development, visit the Department for Environment and Water’s website.

What can you do?

We’re not going to tell you to have hot chips for breakfast, lunch and dinner (sorry kids!).

Instead, here are some quick tips you can consider before your next grocery shop to help play your part in supporting our biodiversity:

  • Food miles: Ever stopped to think about how far your food travels before it reaches your plate? The transportation of food products across long distances contributes to carbon emissions and habitat destruction. Opting for locally sourced, seasonal produce reduces our carbon footprint and supports local farmers, thus promoting biodiversity conservation.
  • Plant-based power: By incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into our diets, we can reduce the demand for animal products, which often require more land, water, and resources to produce.
  • Sustainable seafood: Our oceans are home to a staggering array of marine life, but overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices threaten their delicate balance. Choosing sustainably sourced seafood and supporting fisheries that adhere to responsible fishing practices can help protect marine biodiversity for future generations.
  • Reducing food waste: Did you know that roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted each year? Food waste not only squanders precious resources but also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions when it decomposes in landfills. By reducing our food waste and adopting mindful consumption habits, we can lessen our impact on biodiversity loss.

We make choices about the food we eat for a range of reasons, including price, health, taste and more. Perhaps it’s worth taking a moment to consider biodiversity as well.

If nothing else, it’s certainly food for thought!

Digging into all things biodiversity? Why not uncover 10 fast facts on biodiversity.

Main image credit: Dzenina Lukac


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