Popular Science

One-fifth of Americans are responsible for half the country's food-based emissions

And the emissions might not come from where you think.

cow calf

An all-American, methane-burpin' cow.


There’s no such thing as a truly average American. With more than 300 million people, it’s impossible for one person to perfectly embody the average or median for a set of variables, especially something as personal as what we eat. But usually when you hear about the U.S. diet, you’re hearing about the quintessential meat-eatin’ soda-guzzlin’ ‘Merican as a stand-in for us all.

Until recently, we had no idea how right or wrong that hypothetical average human’s diet might be. We knew that American diets varied a lot, just not how much or in what ways, exactly. That variability matters a lot to some people though—namely, it matters if you want to change how people eat.

Martin Heller is one of those people. He’s and one of several researchers who this week published assessing how much variability there is in the greenhouse gas emissions of American diets. And it turns out the answer is: a lot. Forty six percent of the total from food came from the diets of just one-fifth of the population.

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