Lists of climate-friendly foods are everywhere.

And, because climate isn't the only consideration, there are efforts to take other kinds of environmental impact (remember those?) into account. My Washington Post colleagues created a very groovy food graphic that considers the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, water use, nutrient runoff and habitat disruption.

But you know what's missing from those lists? Deliciousness.

It's easy to understand why. I mean, really, how do you measure it? I don't care how many taste tests you do, "delicious" is superlatively subjective. Yet it's probably the single most important characteristic when it comes to dinner.

This is why lists that consider both climate impact and deliciousness are the purview not of scientists but of opinion columnists. And I am here for you.

Fruits and nuts

The one-two punch of climate-friendly and delicious grows on trees.

Trees are something of a miracle. Like all plants, they turn CO2 into carbohydrates through the life-giving process that is photosynthesis. Some of those carbohydrates become food and others become plant. What sets trees apart is size. For sheer biomass, nothing in the plant kingdom beats a tree. (Okay, maybe Poseidon's ribbon weed beats a tree, but you know what I mean.) The CO2 that becomes tree goes into the greenhouse gas calculation for the food that grows on that tree.

That's why, when you look at the chart, fruits and nuts bring up the rear, with something like 1% of the climate impact of beef.

Of course, feeding people is all trade-offs, all the time, so it's important to note that tree nuts need a lot of water (fruits, less so - on a per-calorie basis, they need a little over half the water that nuts use). This can be a problem when nuts are grown where water is in short supply. I tend to favor cashews, macadamias and pecans over almonds, which are almost all grown in California, a state with escalating drought problems. Also because cashews, macadamias and pecans are the best nuts.

So, when we talk about climate-friendly foods, we can talk about beans (which I'm in favor of, more on that later), or we can talk about an apple cobbler with a topping made with pecans and oats. You can even use some butter and it's still a win.


Mushrooms are, unlike other things we eat, neither plant nor animal. And they grow in conditions unlike those of other things we eat: in compost, in the dark. The most thorough analysis I can find (a 2017 collaboration of the Mushroom Council and an outside consulting firm) puts the per-kilogram CO2-equivalent cost of mushrooms at 0.6 kilograms, only a smidge higher than the cost of fruits and nuts (which come in under 0.5), although still much better than animal products.

But mushrooms have other things going for them. They're grown not in soil, but in a composted (and pasteurized) substrate that uses waste materials, often horse manure or chicken litter. They use a tiny fraction of the water that vegetables do. And, because mushrooms are grown indoors, any pesticides are unlikely to affect the surrounding environment.

More than half of a mushroom's calories come from protein, making it roughly comparable to lean beef, and one study found that, if we could sub mushroom protein in for 20 percent of meat protein, we could reduce deforestation by half. Now, that's a model, and models have an uncanny tendency to reflect the views of the modelers, but I think it's safe to say that eating mushrooms is a good environmental choice.

One of the best uses for mushrooms is replacing about a quarter of the beef in hamburgers - a blended burger. When the Mushroom Council conducted a taste test, the blended burger got higher ratings than either the beef burger or the plant-based Beyond Burger.


As an oyster farmer, I shy away from writing about oysters - especially if I have something good to say. "Of course you think that," the astute reader would say, "you're an oyster farmer!"

So don't ask me. Ask someone else. If you ask Our World in Data, farmed bivalves - oysters, and clams, mussels and scallops - have fewer emissions than all the fish in the sea, farmed or wild.

Because bivalves eat what they can filter out of the water, you don't have to feed them. And some of the things they filter out are the algae that can accumulate and cause toxic, fish-killing blooms.

Oysters for the win! Ice-cold, with a couple drops of mignonette. And you can come for me if you want.

Sweet potatoes (okay, and potatoes)

I haven't found an analysis that breaks out sweet potatoes specifically, but root vegetables and potatoes are both winners. Potatoes score particularly well, so if you are a potato-lover, you're in luck. I'm fine with potatoes, but I like their orange cousins better.

One of the reasons potatoes score so well is their astonishingly high yield. In the United States, last year farmers harvested over 44,000 pounds per acre (that's over 15 million calories per acre, comparable to corn). Sweet potatoes yield just under 20,000 pounds (7.6 million calories) but make it up in flavor.


Since we've opened the floodgates on the climate advantages of high-yielding crops, we have to talk about corn. Not the kind on the cob (although that's fine, too), the kind that's the poster crop for the transgressions of Big Ag. When you think "corn," you probably think fertilizer runoff, monocrop and ethanol.

With ample justification! Most corn grown in this country goes into cars and pigs and Twinkies. Precious little becomes polenta.

But polenta! To turn corn from villain to hero, just add water to cornmeal (4:1) and cook until it's the consistency of oatmeal. Add salt, and a fat of some kind, and it's the perfect bed for chili or ragu.

If polenta doesn't persuade you, maybe tacos will. Maybe cornbread (and sure, put a little sugar in it). Or spoonbread. Or grits. You get the picture.

Bacon, sausage and ham

No, of course they're not the climate-friendliest of foods. But they sure make beans taste better.

Beans top the climate charts, but not everyone is a fan. There are countless bean-based dishes that are transformed by just a little in the way of preserved pork products. Lentil soup with sausage. Split pea with smoked ham hock. Black bean chili with bacon.

There is a catch. Two, actually: animal welfare and pollution. I have serious concerns about both with conventional meat, and I buy well-raised pork from producers I trust. I'm hoping that if everyone eats less meat, there will be room in the budget to pay more for it, and we can create more demand for meat from animals raised with more attention to these issues.

A good way to make eating less more palatable is by using big flavors. Obviously, processed meats in quantity are a bad choice for all kinds of reasons, but in limited quantities, as a flavoring for foods that are good for people and the planet, they're a win.

I think the impact of our diet matters. I write about it because I care about it. But I also think food needs to taste good, and climate-friendly options won't win friends and influence people if they don't.

Is that cobbler I smell?