From here to Eaternity… the meat-free project to calculate the carbon cost of your food

Despite a reputation for neutrality, Switzerland is getting off the fence when it comes to environmentally friendly eating, with a meat-free project designed to demonstrate how people can make a difference through their food choices.

Eaternity is the brainchild of Judith Ellens, a student of environmental science at ETH technological university in Zürich. It is an online “carbon foodprint” calculator that makes it possible to check the carbon impact of individual foods and complete meals. The Eaternity website also offers low-carbon recipes and advice.

Climate-friendly Eaternity meals have recently been trialled at the ETH physics department canteen, where students were able to enjoy meals that saved 65 per cent more carbon dioxide than their usual meat dishes –  the equivalent of running a laptop for 122 hours.

The three-week trial saved the equivalent of 1.1 tonnes of CO2, but Ellens’s research team estimates that weekly savings of five tonnes would be possible. The vast majority of students wanted Eaternity meals to become a regular option.

At the heart of Eaternity is meat-free eating and seasonal produce. “In the same surface area that yields a kilogramme of beef, 105kg of tomatoes or 130kg of potatoes can be produced,” says Ellens, who won a university prize in 2008 for her idea of CO2-reduced nutrition.

According to the Eaternity CO2 calculator, even vegetarian meals can be bad for the environment, however: processed dairy products such as hard cheese and cream are almost as bad as beef – and butter is worse. A kilo of beef produces 13.3kg of CO2 from field to fork, and butter 23.8kg. The same quantity of potatoes produces just 190g of CO2.

Eaternity is now being considered for a Prix Nature sustainability award, and will hopefully soon spread off-campus – the timing couldn’t be better, with the Swiss government currently devising a climate strategy that takes into account the role of nutrition in climate change, underestimated for too long, according to Swiss environment officials.

“We hope our idea will be taken up by as many canteens, catering businesses and restaurants as possible,” says Ellens.

For more information, visit www.eaternity.ch