How to Fight Climate Change with Your Fork
Oct. 31, 2017
One-tenth of US greenhouse gas emissions comes from agriculture and the food system. However, agriculture done right sequesters carbon dioxide in the soil and fights global warming. Here are some ways to reduce your carbon footprint through what you eat:
Eat less meat and dairy.
Meat and dairy produce more greenhouse gas emissions than any other food. The animal is an additional step between plants and your plate. Grass-eating animals like cows and sheep belch methane, which has a warming effect up to 36 times as strong as carbon dioxide, and poorly managed manure emits greenhouse gases up to 300 times as strong. If most people in the world followed health guidelines for eating meat, global emissions would drop by about a third, and widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would decrease global emissions by 63%. Veganism would decrease global emissions by 70%.
Transportation accounts for about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the food system. Produce is especially important to buy local, as its food miles consist of up to 50% of its total transportation. Farms that avoid industrial agricultural practices are often small-scale and only sell locally. When you buy produce form your local farmer’s market, you can ask your farmer questions about where and how your food was grown. Freezing, canning, and preserving seasonal local produce to eat during the winter is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, secure nutrient-rich, tasty produce year-round.
25% of the energy associated with food comes from agriculture. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are responsible for 36% of that – more than any other consumer of energy in agriculture. Fertilizers also emit very potent nitrogenous greenhouse gases. Buy organic produce to cut back on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions!
Opt out of processed and pre-packaged foods
Food processing and packaging account for another 25% of the energy demanded by America’s food system. Whole foods, such as whole-grain products and whole raw produce, are much easier on the atmosphere (and are the cornerstone of the Slow Food philosophy). Canning is the least energy-intensive processing method, followed by freezing, and lastly dehydrating.
Overuse of packaging, which requires energy to manufacture and is discarded shortly after purchase, is a problem across many industries. Choosing foods with minimal packaging will decrease both your carbon footprint and the volume of your local landfill. A good way to do that while saving money is to buy in bulk. While not all packaging can be avoided there are many lower-energy packaging: Cardboard packaging is the least energy intensive type of packaging, followed by plastic, glass, canning, freezing, and dehydrating. Stray away from packaging that cannot be reused and recycled.
Cook – and cook smart.
37% of all energy consumed by the food system is used for food preparation. Save energy by preparing food at home. Use the stove top or microwave instead of the oven wherever possible, and when you use the oven, cook multiple foods and reduce preheating. There is little difference in efficiency between electric and gas ovens – one has a greater energy efficiency and the other has a greater heat transfer efficiency. Eating more raw foods is the most energy conserving practice.
Don’t throw away your food.
When food is thrown away and buried in a landfill, it releases large amounts of methane. Half of the food produced in America today is wasted and not eaten. Reducing food waste and only buying what you know you will eat is one of the easiest and most important things you can do to decrease your carbon footprint. Composting is a great way to turn food waste into valuable soil.
Grow your own food.
Food grown, raised, or gather in your own backyard is the least energy-intensive and lowest-carbon product out there. Growing your own food provides a bountiful and low-cost supply of your favorite foods and the satisfaction of providing for yourself while helping to create a better future!
The challenge of climate change is large, but greenhouse gas-emitting activities happen only as a result of consumer demand. If enough consumers choose low-carbon food options, the carbon footprint of our food system will start to change (and food’s broader environmental and social impact will change with it). Working together, we can create a national trend of Good, Clean, and Fair food!
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