Giving a toss about the climate: How bad is your pancake?

How much will your humble pancake consume the planet? Beth did some research to find out.

It started as a bit of office procrastination. We’ve all committed to giving up something for Lent to help save our planet, and as we were writing the Shrove Tuesday resources around this, someone suddenly asked “we have checked that pancakes are environmentally friendly, haven’t we?”. Well, not a team to leave a question like that unanswered, we found out…

There are many ways to measure how environmentally friendly something is, the packaging that’s used, for example, but those things vary depending on where you are and what brand you buy, so we’ve concentrated on the carbon footprint of producing our food.

If we work off BBC good food’s suggested easy pancake recipe [1], to make a pancake you’ll need 100g flour, 2 large eggs and 300ml milk. This means a batch of pancakes will require 1070g CO2e, which divided down (say you get 8 pancakes from this mix) means a pancake is 133.75g CO2e before you use oil or have any toppings.

Then we get to toppings: let’s start with the failsafe lemon and sugar. Lemons are 90g CO2e each, and you probably use a wedge that’s about a 6th of a lemon, coming in at 15g CO2e. Sugar is 2kg CO2e per kilo, and let’s say you have a measly two teaspoons per pancake, that’s 16g Co2e, making this combined topping 31g Co2e.

Strawberries are 1.8kg CO2e per 250g punnet, or 7.2g per kilo if out of season, that is if they are air freighted or hot housed in UK.  I got some weird looks in the supermarket when counting how many strawberries in a punnet, but there were about 14, which makes a strawberry approximately 129g CO2e. When in season, the figure drops to 600g per kilo, so it’s only about 11g CO2e per strawberry. Strawberries aren’t in season by pancake day, so you’ll need to calculate the higher figure. Meanwhile bananas are 80g CO2e each.

Jam and honey are both highly varied in their carbon emissions, depending especially on how locally produced these are. If you’ve got bees in your back garden and jam from your allotment in recycled jam jars, then you can pat yourself on the back more smugly.

For your favourite chocolate nut spread, we struggled to find a definitive figure, but it turns out that Nutella is bad for the environment in many other ways (see: here and here). I know, devastated is an understatement.

Back to more dairy favourites, cheese is 60g CO2e per 50g chunk. I’m being generous with portion sizes there, but, well, cheese.  Ice cream on the other hand is a shocking 500g CO2e per scoop. Dairy is generally a high carbon foodstuff, because of our flatulent cows producing methane, so if you’re giving up meat this Lent it will be worth bearing in mind that replacing it with cheese might not help too much.

So the best carbon footprint topping? The humble lemon and sugar is pretty good and any in-season fruit is perfect. But if you’re eating pancakes for your evening meal instead of a steak, then you’re improving your carbon footprint even with the highest toppings. And if you’re feeling a bit guilty about your chocolate nut spread addiction (is it just me?) then it’s not too late to sign up to a Living Lent here.

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The Facts and Figures:

Lemons: 90g CO2e each, or 500g per kilo [actually the figure for oranges, but the supply chains are similar]

Sugar:  2kg CO2e per kilo

Strawberries: 1.8kg CO2e per 250g punnet, or 7.2g per kilo [if out of season – i.e. air freighted or hothoused in UK. When in season, the figure drops to 600g per kilo]

Nutella: We struggled to find a definitive figure, but it turns out Nutella is bad for the environment in so many ways – see here and here .

Honey: Highly variable; locally produced has very low carbon footprint

Ice cream: 500g CO2e per portion

Jam: Highly variable, depends on type and source of fruit and sugar, and where produced

Cheese: 12kg CO2e per kilo

Bananas: 80g CO2e each, or 480g per kilo

Eggs: 300g CO2e each

Flour:  800g CO2e per kilo

Milk: 1.3kg CO2e per litre

Sources: How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, by Mike Berners-Lee (Profile Books, 2010);

Beth Allison-Glenny is the Baptist Union’s Public Issues Enabler, and spends her time working between the Joint Public Issues Team and the Baptist Union of Great Britain. She is an ordained minister and previously pastored churches in Oxford and Leicestershire. She has an MTh in Applied Theology from Oxford and an undergraduate MTheol(hons) from the University of St Andrews.