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Study Reveals Top 25 Dishes Impacting Biodiversity

Dishes Impacting Biodiversity

In an ironic twist, the Indian vegan staple breakfast item Idli has ranked #6 on a list of dishes that apparently cause the most harm to global biodiversity. Rajma, Chicken Jalfrezi and Dal also rank among the top 20.

The study by the National University of Singapore, funded by the Ministry of Education of Singapore argues that the dishes on their 151-strong list cause harm due to the way their ingredients are procured.

How does food affect the ecosystem?

What we eat, and how that food is produced, affects our health but also the environment. Food needs to be grown and processed, transported, distributed, prepared, consumed, and sometimes disposed of. Each of these steps creates greenhouse gases that trap the sun’s heat and contribute to climate change. About a third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions is linked to food.

The largest chunk of food-related greenhouse gases comes from agriculture and land use. This includes, for instance:

  • methane from cattle’s digestive process,
  • nitrous oxide from fertilizers used for crop production,
  • carbon dioxide from cutting down forests for the expansion of farmland,
  • other agricultural emissions from manure management, rice cultivation, burning of crop residues, and the use of fuel on farms.

A much smaller share of the greenhouse gas emissions of food are caused by:

  • refrigeration and transport of food,
  • industrial processes such as the production of paper and aluminum for packaging,
  • the management of food waste.

Top 25 Dishes Causing Biodiversity Damage

  • Scientists assess biodiversity footprints of 151 popular dishes worldwide.
  • Idli, chana masala, rajma, and chicken jalfrezi among the top 25 dishes with the most significant impact on biodiversity.
  • Vegan and vegetarian dishes generally have lower biodiversity footprints than meat-containing dishes.
  • Surprisingly, dishes with rice and legumes as main ingredients also have high biodiversity footprints.
  • Biodiversity footprint scores assigned based on the impact of ingredients on species richness and range of wild mammals, birds, and amphibians in croplands.
  • Food choice typically influenced by taste, price, and health, but biodiversity impact scores could help environmentally conscious individuals make informed choices.
  • Food consumption accounts for 20% to 30% of household environmental impact.
  • Livestock rearing for non-vegetarian food flagged for negative environmental impacts.
  • High biodiversity footprints of rice and legumes attributed to land conversion for agriculture.
  • India, a top producer of legumes, also a megadiverse zone with 7% to 8% of global species.
  • Despite high biodiversity footprints of rice and legume dishes, India has managed to coexist with biodiversity, partially due to a large vegetarian population.
  • Shift towards more meat consumption in India would significantly increase biodiversity impact.
  • French fries have the lowest biodiversity footprint, while aloo paratha, dosa, and bonda from India ranked moderately.

Top Dishes with Largest Biodiversity Footprints:

RankDishBiodiversity Footprint
1Lechazo (Spain)High
2Beef dishes (Brazil)High
6Idli (India)High
7Rajma (India)High
19Chicken Jalfrezi (India)High
20Dal (India)High
22Chana Masala (India)High
151French FriesLow

India’s Scenario:

  • India, a top producer of legumes, faces challenges with land conversion for agriculture.
  • Despite its large population, India has managed to coexist with biodiversity, partly due to a large proportion of vegetarians.

Ranking of Some Dishes:

19Chicken JalfreziIndian
22Chana MasalaIndian
96Aloo ParathaIndian

Dishes with Lowest Biodiversity Footprints:

  • French fries
  • Baguettes
  • Pureed tomato sauce
  • Popcorn

The top 10 in order

LechazoSpanish dish made from the meat of unweaned lambs no more than 35 days old
PicanhaBrazilian beef dish
FraldinhaBrazilian beef dish
ChurrascoLatin American beef dish
Arroz CarreteiroBrazilian rice and beef dish
IdliSouth Indian steamed rice cake
RajmaIndian dish made with kidney beans in a thick gravy
YukgaejangKorean beef soup
ChutneyCondiment made from fruits or vegetables with vinegar, spices, and sugar
Chicken ChaatIndian dish made with marinated chicken, vegetables, and spices, often served as a snack
  • Although meat-containing dishes generally have higher biodiversity footprints, the high ranking of vegetarian dishes such as those with rice and legumes was unexpected due to their impact on biodiversity-rich areas.
  • Researchers used the biodiversity footprint to measure the impact of a dish’s ingredients on species richness, suggesting that food choices can be tailored for biodiversity conservation.


While India faces significant pressures on biodiversity, its large vegetarian population has helped in biodiversity conservation. Shifts towards increased meat consumption could exacerbate biodiversity loss.

Read Also: International Year of Millets 2023

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