Beyond information on the ingredients, seasonality, and even calorie content, some restaurants are now providing information on their food’s carbon emissions. This might encourage diners to choose sustainable options.

At a well-known chain of Mexican restaurants in the UK, there are two labels next to each item on the menu: one displays the calories, and the other informs you of the food’s carbon footprint. However, the company decided to seize the chance to add yet another annotation to its menu for clients to consider: information about how the food they were consuming affected the environment. Thomasina Miers, who founded the restaurant chain after winning a UK TV cooking talent competition, claims that counting calories is not the best way to gauge how healthy food is or whether it’s good for the environment. She noted that the restaurant adopted carbon labels to provide clients with clear information about their options. This enlightens individuals about how much power is at their fingertips. “Low-carbon” foods are those that have a CO2e (or “CO2 equivalent”) level of 0.6 kg or less, such as a sweet potato burrito (0.46 kg). Food is “medium-carbon” if it has a carbon footprint of between 0.6 kg and 1.6 kg of CO2e, like a grilled chicken club quesadilla. The term “high-carbon” is used to describe any foods with a higher carbon footprint, such as a chargrilled beef burrito (3.04 kg CO2e).

While acknowledging that carbon labels only tell us part of the picture, Miers argues they are a good tool for getting consumers to consider how their food choices affect the climate. “It’s just about giving people information. It’s not about telling people what they can or can’t eat.”