French fries are one of the best meals for protecting biodiversity, study finds

Worried about your impact on biodiversity? If you’re a lover of warm delicious french fries – or hot chips as they’re called in other parts of the world – you can give your conscience a break. 

An international study published last month in the journal Plos One ranked the biodiversity footprint of some of the most beloved meals from around the globe and found that french fries had the lowest impact. 

The study analyzed 151 popular dishes from chili con carne to beef tartare and tried to determine how many resources those dishes required to put local environments at risk for environmental catastrophe.

Researchers said a Spanish dish called Lechazo – roast lamb – had the highest impact on biodiversity.

Overall, researchers suggested that consumers should cut down on beef and lamb and eat more rice and potatoes. 

Study authors said some of the world’s most beloved dishes also contribute to habitat loss that can have grave consequences for the planet and how humans live on it. 

"The world’s biodiversity is undergoing a sixth mass extinction event with the average vertebrate extinction rate 100 times higher than the background rate. This unprecedented rate of species extinctions is primarily driven by habitat loss resulting from expanding agriculture," the study authors wrote. "With the rising human population and economic growth expected to increase the demand for food up to 70% by 2050, the problem will be further exacerbated."

The environmental impact of eating meat

It’s been well-documented that eating meat creates environmental woes. 

"There has arguably never been a more important time in human history to transform our food system for the sake of humans and nature," a coalition of United Kingdom climate scientists concluded in a 2020 analysis.

Meat production is a key driver of climate change. The livestock sector is responsible for at least 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the single greatest source of methane, a top threat to Earth’s climate, according to the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations.

And over-consumption of meat doesn’t just have negative effects on the environment. 

From a health perspective, people in places like the U.S., Canada and Europe eat far more meat, especially red meat and processed meat, than recommended. That puts them at risk for obesity, heart disease, stroke and other problems plaguing wealthy nations.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.