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Tempeh vs. Tofu: Unlocking the Secret to a Sustainable Diet & Saving the Planet

Tempeh vs. Tofu: Unlocking the Secret to a Sustainable Diet & Saving the Planet

Is tempeh more sustainable than tofu? You may wonder what food has to do with the environment anyway. After all, it exists for people to eat, right?

As it turns out, food production contributes a considerable percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions. Some meals are more sustainable than others, and adjusting your diet is a simple way to do your part to combat climate change.

What do you need to know to make the best choices? Here’s the skinny on tempeh, tofu and other low-carbon footprint foods and how to tailor your diet to improve your health — and the planet’s.

Factors Influencing a Food’s Carbon Footprint

Multiple factors influence a food’s carbon footprint, which is the sum of the energy and resources required to produce it. Meat production is one of the worst culprits for several reasons:

  • It uses up land for grazing that could grow lower carbon footprint foods.
  • It contributes to deforestation.
  • Cows produce a lot of methane, a heavy greenhouse gas.
  • It takes much longer and uses more resources and energy to raise meat animals to maturity than it does to grow plants.

Does this mean you should become a vegan or vegetarian? While doing so would considerably decrease your carbon footprint, simply reducing your meat intake to once or twice per week also helps. So does eliminating certain types of meat. For example, people who follow halal diets don’t consume pork, and members of several religions avoid beef. Although their reason for abstaining may differ, their actions still help planet Earth.

Other factors influencing a food’s carbon footprint include:

  • How much water does it use? For example, one criticism of almond milk is the tremendous amount of water these trees use to produce a single nut.
  • How much land does it require? Larger plant-based foods — such as those that grow on trees — require more land to produce edible fruit.
  • How challenging is it to grow in various climates? Plants that wither and die easily often require excessive amounts of fertilizer and pesticides to flourish outside of specific habitats. For example, monk fruit grows only in a small portion of southeast Asia, whereas corn flourishes in multiple climate zones and soil types.

Is Tempeh More Sustainable Than Tofu?

Tempeh and tofu both come from soybeans, a crop that doesn’t use many resources to grow. Tempeh isn’t necessarily more sustainable than tofu, although it does take slightly longer to ferment. However, time is the only necessary added ingredient, so the two are roughly equivalent in terms of their planetary impact.

Other Low Carbon Footprint Protein Sources

Given meat’s heavy impact on the environment, why do people continue to eat it? Part of the reason has to do with culture and taste, but much of it hinges on protein. Meat contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs.

However, it’s perfectly possible to complete your protein intake with plants, although it takes greater conscientiousness. Here are several other low-carbon footprint protein sources to add to your weekly menu:

  • Tofu, tempeh and edamame, all from soybeans
  • Lentils
  • Beans and rice
  • Quinoa
  • Hemp seeds
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Seeds
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Ezekiel bread
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Spirulina

5 Ways to Make Your Diet More Sustainable

Knowing that tempeh and tofu are more sustainable protein sources than meat is only part of the battle. What are some specific steps you can take to make your diet more sustainable? These five suggestions will reduce your dining footprint.

1. Cut Back on Meat

Begin by kicking judgment to the curb. For one week, simply track all the meals you eat containing meat. You might be surprised how many servings you consume daily. For example, a few strips of bacon at breakfast, bologna on your lunchtime sandwich and beef in your evening soup put you over the two recommended servings per week to make a climate difference.

Then, do some meal planning and prepping. For example, red beans and rice form a complete protein and mixing them with grilled veggies and tucking them into a pita is a quick, nutritious and filling lunch. Overnight oats recipes take care of breakfast deliciously, and many common dinners, like pasta, need no meat.

Ask yourself how you can keep the flavors you love while moving toward a more meat-free lifestyle. For example, experiment with various vegan burger recipes to find the right combination of black beans, lentils, nutritional yeast and portobello mushrooms your family adores.

2. Patronize Your Farmer’s Market

Your farmer’s market isn’t only fabulous for finding low prices. It’s also among the best places to shop to make a planetary difference. Why? Consider the following sustainability benefits:

  • Talk to farmers directly about their practices
  • Reduce water and pesticide use
  • Replacing fertilizers with natural materials like compost
  • Decreased emissions from transport

For example, many farmer’s markets have multiple fruit and vegetable stands managed by people who work on the farm itself. You can inquire whether they use organic practices that maintain the soil for future generations and choose the greenest vendors with confidence.

3. Pay Attention to Packaging

If you wonder why on earth anyone would wrap an apple in plastic, it probably has to do with transportation. Pests can get into cargo holds, contaminating entire shipments. That’s another reason shopping locally matters, although some places, like France, have enacted bans to protect the planet from the excess waste such practices create.

You can likewise refuse to buy foods with an inordinate amount of packaging. It takes energy to create those clamshells and wraps, which often end up in landfills, causing further environmental devastation after serving their intended purpose.

4. Learn How to Portion

Food waste contributes to rising temperatures because it often ends up in landfills. When you dispose of organic matter like this, it releases methane into the atmosphere instead of breaking down aerobically. Much of what ends up in the trash was once on your plate.

Therefore, learn the correct portion sizes for various foods. For example:

  • Half a cup of veggies is about half a baseball’s worth
  • A baked potato is roughly the size of a computer mouse
  • A tablespoon is approximately half a shot glass

Try using smaller plates if you feel compelled to fill every square inch of usable space. Remember, you can always get up and have seconds if you remain hungry, but it’s easier to save leftovers without bite marks.

5. Get Creative With Leftovers

Cut food waste even further by getting creative with your leftovers. Are you a fan of cooking shows like “Chopped” on Food Network? Pretend those remaining peas are one of your basket ingredients. How will you give them new life?

Is Tempeh Better Than Tofu?

Many plant-based foods, such as tempeh and tofu, are sustainable because they take fewer resources to grow than meat production. Soybeans are a particularly hardy crop suitable for several climate zones.

Use the tips above to incorporate more sustainable foods like tempeh and tofu into your diet. You can do your part to save the planet, starting with your dinner plate.

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