Grocery shopping with a climate budget: Jeff’s diary

What exactly does a climate footprint label mean? What does it translate to on the store shelves and our daily plates? Shopping with a climate budget works similarly to our weekly grocery budget: Sometimes a craving is too strong to ignore. Sometimes, with small tradeoffs, you can have your cake and eat it too. And sometimes it feels good to leave room in the budget. So what’s the playing field when eating with a climate budget? Sneak a peek into climate-budgeter Jeff’s shopping and cooking diary.

Jeff is a climate-conscious guy living in a single household. He is a graphic designer who likes running, international cuisine, nutrition, and board game nights with his friends. Jeff is a guy with enough life experience to comfortably go with the flow, optimize his choices along the way, and make the most out of everything he has.

Jeff is getting a lot of questions from friends on climate-smart shopping, and this week he decides to keep a journal of his shopping and meal prep processes to pass on his reflections to his climate-curious friends. Tag along!

Carbon footprint – Sunday bulk shopping

Sunday – Bulk shopping

Jeff walks into a grocery store (no punchline, sorry!).

A bit of bulk shopping today, folks: Fruit, vegetables, staples, and breakfast for the week

Fresh produce

Produce aisle, here we go: Pretty much everything in fruit and vegetables is a clean slate. But there are valuable trade-offs here! Asparagus and fresh berries in the winter? Forget about it. They are one of the few products transported by air – that massively increases their footprint. Bananas? Good to go and a versatile ingredient!

A kilo of bananas in the cart.

For vegetables, everything in the root vegetable domain is close to zero! I am stacking up on everything here: Potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, sweet potato – a colorful, nutritional marvel.

When buying salad, I consider the season and country of origin. In the beginning, I was inclined to buy local – but that doesn’t necessarily mean a lower climate footprint! If a vegetable like a tomato is off-season, it is most likely produced in a heated greenhouse that consumes a lot of energy. In places like ours where a grey sky is the default, a vegetable produced in a sunnier location that traveled longer has a lower footprint than the same vegetable produced locally but in a high-intensity greenhouse.

Check out the climate footprint of these tomatoes!

Carbon footprint of fresh tomatoes by country of origin

Do you know what that 3.5 kg of CO2e can get me? A pint of ice cream and 3 cans of beer! Spanish tomatoes it is! Add a head of lettuce for lunch sandwiches and a head of broccoli for the occasional wok.

My staples

For starches, I am getting pasta and rice. Now rice is not always that innocent – rice from some areas, especially along the equator with high rates of deforestation or in countries that use paddy fields, has a high climate footprint. For this reason, I am always mindful and look more closely into the climate footprint when buying rice.

Oats and raisins for breakfast porridge are an easy choice. Eggs are a conscious climate expense but I have a plan for this weekend’s breakfast… Half a dozen will do. A loaf of bread for my lunch sandwiches is always a bang for my climate buck.

Dairy… -adjacent!

The dairy aisle is where the biggest tradeoffs can take place. Dairy yogurt or oat yogurt for breakfast smoothies? With 3 kg of CO2e versus 0.5 kg of CO2e, it’s a no-brainer. I can save that climate buck for mid-week chicken – and my smoothie will taste just as yummy!

I need cheese for my sandwiches… These climate footprints are an audible ‘gulp’. Nevertheless, it is another conscious expense I am willing to make. I took some photos from the aisle – look at the portion of different cheeses 1.3 kg of CO2e can get me.

Carbon footprint of cheese UK

Makes your head spin, huh? If I reverse it, a kilo of blue cheese is more than my entire weekly climate footprint budget! A kilo of feta cheese is more than 3 times my weekly budget! A 150g pack of mozzarella is the obvious choice for the most expensive climate-budget purchase (cheese) today. You’re feeling it, right?!

Packing, paying, and getting my good stuff home! Here’s my climate footprint receipt – less than 60% of my climate footprint budget has been used but more than 40% of my full meals and all my meal staples are covered.

Receipt of total carbon footprint spent for bulk shopping

And I have the perfect way to elevate my ingredients. I toast two tomatoes, half an onion, and a chili pepper. Step two, I blend them with salt and pepper and presto! Tengo salsa for the entire week!

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    Carbon footprint – Monday

    #MeatlessMonday – Hearty Bolognese

    Had a banana smoothie and an egg for breakfast, a mozzarella sandwich with lettuce and salsa for lunch, went for a run after work and I am ready for dinner. 5K in, I am craving carbs in the form of a pasta Bolognese!

    Quick trip to the grocery store for dinner ingredients. I need crushed tomatoes and some kind of protein. Canned tomatoes are one of the few purchases where the packaging really matters: 60% of the climate footprint of canned tomatoes comes from the energy-intensive aluminum packaging. I always get them in cardboard when I can find them. Check this:

    Carbon footprint crushed tomatoes in can vs crushed tomatoes in cardboard

    Getting three of them and leaving space for weekend beer instead!

    Heading for protein, with a climate footprint of more than 15 kg of CO2e, ground beef is an investment… Personally, I see it as a getting-real-champagne-instead-of-bubbles occasion. An at-home Monday dinner is certainly not worth expending my weekly budget in one day. The plant-based protein alternatives have advanced in heaps and bounds, especially in minced format, so I am getting one of them, saving my weekly climate budget and avoiding restrictively eating legumes for 10 days!

    Today’s climate footprint expense: 0.9 kg of CO2e

    Carbon footprint – Tuesday

    Tuesday – Can’t even

    Hearty porridge with raisins, banana, and cinnamon for breakfast and leftover Bolognese for lunch today! Feeling extra carb-loaded, so a boatload of lentil soup will do for dinner.

    I have onions, I have crushed tomatoes, and I got a bag of lentils on the way home.

    My climate footprint expense of the whole day? 0.3 kg of CO2e – Win!

    Carbon footprint – Wednesday

    Wednesday – Time for animal protein

    The day starts with a delish smoothie and continues with a sandwich and some leftover lentil soup. For today’s dinner, I’m going East and investing in animal protein!

    The thing with animal protein is that our bodies need much less than what we are getting. Nutrition-wise, the recommended portion of meat is less than 100 gr!

    Tonight, I am going for the most climate-friendly animal protein: Chicken! Chicken has approximately half the climate footprint of pork and… 10 times less than the climate footprint of beef. So 200g of chicken and my climate footprint expense is 0.7 kg of CO2e. In the same vein, a portion of seitan would go great in a wok and leave room in my budget for 0.5 kg of CO2e, but I’ve been good this week. Regardless, I ran another 5K and my restraint is low!

    Throwing the broccoli, the rice, the chicken (and some ever-present soy sauce!) in my wok and I am feeling the joy.

    Today’s climate footprint expense: 0.7 kg of CO2e

    Carbon footprint – Thursday

    Thursday – On the down-low


    Really indulged yesterday, so no porridge today – a smoothie will do. There was also plenty of wok leftovers for lunch. I also don’t feel like shopping at all – there’s plenty of stuff at home.

    Lentils, spices, crushed tomatoes, some rice on the side… and my stomach says YES.

    Today’s expense: 0!

    Carbon footprint – Friday

    Friday – Fiesta!

    Woke up energized and ready for porridge and an egg for breakfast, topped by a sandwich for lunch. That salsa really got me inspired so I’m feeling for a Mexican food weekend – and it starts now!

    I had the greatest veggie burrito some weeks ago and I am dying to replicate it at home. Adding a pack of tortillas, a pack of beans and I have everything else at home: Sweet potatoes, some shredded mozzarella, lettuce, rice, salsa – and I proclaim the replication a success! There is something about spicy textured food wrapped in a soft tortilla that makes my heart jump.

    This is exactly the mood I am bringing out to the gathering with my friends! With space in my weekly climate budget for my Friday beers, I am heading out to have a good time – and a couple of pints of beer… or a bottle of wine and board games at my buddy Tony’s, the evening is young!

    Today’s climate footprint expense: 1.7 kg of CO2e (bottle of wine included!)

    Carbon footprint – Saturday

    Saturday – Food fiesta continued


    The Fiesta spirit continues! During Sunday’s bulk shopping, I invested in eggs, and I made salsa with something specific in mind. With yesterday’s tortilla pack, Saturday breakfast is huevos rancheros! And with plenty of burrito stuffing still in the fridge, I hit another burrito for lunch. Good stuff!

    But I still haven’t used all the wonderful root veggies I got on Sunday. What could go well with oven-roasted beets, carrots, and potatoes? The grocery store aisles lead me to fish – which I haven’t had this week. The cheapest climate footprint from the options is herring; then mackerel, then cod, and the most expensive one is salmon.

    Carbon footprint of fish UK

    Now that the week is drawing to a close, how much space is there in my budget?

    Total climate footprint expenditure until Saturday: 10 kg of CO2e

    200 gr of mackerel it is! And a bag of candy for snacking.

    Today’s climate footprint expense: 0.8 kg of CO2e

    Carbon footprint – Sunday

    Sunday – Cooldown

    Every day is a good day for breakfast huevos rancheros! In addition, it’s a good protein power-up for my Sunday 10K run, which I follow up with a leftovers lunch. Those root vegetables were a delight and the fish is much better when it’s not burning hot! (I wasn’t in a hurry to eat yesterday, no!).

    Before I begin anew with next week’s climate budget, I stop by the cool fast-food place around the corner. This week was quite well-distributed for me: No massive one-time climate footprint splurges, no ascetic savings either, so I will certainly skip the hamburger. However, that seitan stuck in my head since Wednesday, so a Seitan burger it is! And delicious it is, much like the whole week was!

    Weekly climate footprint expenditure: 11.1 kg of CO2e

      Breakfast Lunch Dinner
    Monday Smoothie
    + 1 egg
    Sandwich Bolognese
    Tuesday Porridge Bolognese
    Lentil soup
    Wednesday Smoothie
    + 1 egg
    + Lentil soup
    Chicken wok
    Thursday Smoothie Wok leftovers Dahl
    + rice
    Friday Porridge Sandwich Burrito
    + Wine!
    Saturday Huevos
    Burrito Mackerel
    + root veggies
    Sunday Huevos
    Burrito Seitan burger

    Want to follow Jeff’s example? Imagine a world where this diary was obsolete and everything in the grocery store is labeled with its climate footprint! Oh wait, it already happened… Check out our impressions from the KNOWVEMBER pop-up store, where everything was climate-labeled.

    But until we get there -and even after!- visit CarbonCloud’s Climate hub and explore the climate footprints of different ingredients as well as products on the shelf!

    Curious about our calculations and Jeff’s climate budget? Check out our Science team explaining what happened under the spreadsheets of climate budgeting for Jeff!