Although abiding by a vegan or predominantly plant-based diet is easily considered to be one of the most sustainable ways of life, certain plant-based foods are more sustainable than others. Growing and harvesting olive oil is significantly more sustainable than producing palm oil, for example, while certain types of fruit agriculture has a lower impact than others.
That being said, sustainability experts across the globe believe that mushrooms are the most sustainable vegetable from the beginning of the growing process to harvest — but why would that be the case? We're doing a deep dive into the sustainability of mushrooms, and exploring why many consider them to be one of the lowest-impact foods on the planet.
Mushrooms require less growing materials, water, and energy than other types of crops.
There are many reasons why mushroom agriculture is more sustainable than other types of agriculture, which start with the growing process. Farmers use upcycled materials from other agricultural divisions such as cow manure, chicken litter, cotton hulls, almond husks, corn cobs, wheat straw, and sawdust for substrate, which is what mushrooms use to grow, as per the American Mushroom Institute. Then, throughout the growing process, their environmental impact is minimal.
Mushroom growing also requires a minimal amount of water. According to South Mill Mushrooms, it takes less than two gallons of water to produce one pound of button mushrooms, which – in comparison to the tens of gallons of water used to grow other fruits and vegetables — is incredibly minimal. Energy-wise, mushroom growing is also lesser than other crops, utilizing approximately 1 kilowatt hour per pound, which is about equal to one person brewing a pot of coffee.
Mushroom farming emits much less carbon dioxide — and requires less land — than other agricultural practices.
A study conducted by The Mushroom Council also shows that growing mushrooms also generates far less carbon dioxide (CO2) than other types of vegetables. Every 1 pound of mushrooms, reports show, emit about 0.7 pounds of CO2 equivalent emissions. Researchers were able to reach that number by tracking the amount of energy emitted from electricity and fuel used for composting, growing operations, and — of course — harvesting.
Meanwhile, mushroom farming requires much less land than other types of agriculture. One square foot of land can produce 7.1 pounds of mushrooms per year, which means that one acre could produce 1 million pounds of mushrooms. They're so space efficient because mushrooms are stacked vertically in growing facilities. By conserving space, it requires less deforestation, which is a major problem within the agriculture industry.
Between requiring very few growing materials, energy, water, and land, while emitting low amounts of carbon dioxide, mushrooms are definitely the MVP of sustainable agriculture. Although they didn't make it onto our list of easy fruits and vegetables to grow in your garden — as they need specific growing conditions — you can rest easy knowing your mushroom loaf from your holiday feast didn't do a number on the environment... and your guests definitely enjoyed it, too.