A new study from scientists from the University of Singapore looking at the biodiversity impact of popular dishes around the world has confirmed that plant-based dishes have a much lower impact than dishes containing animal products, but it has also identified which plant-based dishes are better than others.

To calculate the agricultural footprint of each ingredient, researchers used crop and pasture area data, and for the biodiversity, they used data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature red list of threatened species and BirdLife International.

The study, titled “Biodiversity footprints of 151 popular dishes from around the world” and published on PLOS ONE on 21st February 2024, found meat dishes such as chili con carne, salsa verde pork and a Spanish lamb dish called lechazo, had the worst biodiversity impact. This was no surprise to anyone, but the study also compared plant-based popular dishes and found that recipes that use rice and legumes, such as the chickpea-based dish chana masala and the kidney bean rajma curry, can have more biodiversity impact depending on where the ingredients are grown. 

Roman Carrasco, one of the paper’s authors, said to the Guardian, “The origin of the beans or lentils you are using matters quite a bit. Elissa Cheng, the study’s lead author, said, “The study highlights particular problems for dishes using ingredients from tropical areas rich in biodiversity, including Brazil and Mexico…The findings suggest we might need mechanisms to compensate countries to preserve their biodiversity [instead of using the land for agriculture] while we grow more things in countries that have already cleared most of their natural habitat for agriculture, like parts of Europe and North America.”

The study found that the dishes with less negative impact on biodiversity were those with starchy ingredients such as potato and wheat, including Polish pyzy potato dumplings and Chinese mantou.

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.