Devastating wildfires, hurricanes, and other extreme weather have escalated concerns about climate change. Can we make a difference with our food choices? Yes!
Throughout the summer our Portage and Paddle youth crews have had many opportunities to talk about making food choices that make a difference in the care of our planet.
In our groups, we have shopped and made meals with intention – to educate and share knowledge so that kids can use these skills and carry it forward when they become future grocery shoppers and meal planners. There are many opportunities with kids to teach through gardening and dinner time conversations about where our food is coming from and whether it’s a planet-saving meal.
On one of our middle-school crew adventures we spent a day our on Lake Minnetonka on a no-emissions Duffy boat, which was a great way to enjoy lake fun in a planet-friendly way. We stopped at Nautical Bowls to pick up fuel for the outing and that was a perfect chance to talk about eating for the planet when making food choices for restaurants/out on the go. Nautical Bowls is ALL plant-based, all natural ingredients. They also donate a meal for every bowl purchased so it’s a great way to connect food choices to taking care of the planet and also fight hunger.
In our groups, we also talked about how the food we put on our plates is a very personal choice, but we should also know and keep thinking about how a climate crisis will not be served by individual actions alone…so while many of us may be starting to make food choices based on climate impacts of the food, the reality is that there are structural barriers for individuals that want to opt-out of the industrial food system and it’s emission heavy products. This is what we need to work on, as a nation. We need to create new structures that make climate-conscious food the default (not the rare exception).
Some of the topics we have talked about this summer include food-related solutions to climate change. Almost 30% of global greenhouse emissions come from food. That’s the impact that it takes to grow, make, package, and transport food. Beyond that, it’s imporatant to remember that globally 1/3 of all food goes to waste.
The only way to avoid an impending climate disaster is to stop adding greenhouse gases – and since 30% is caused by our food system, this is an important sector to concentrate on. We need to transform agrilculture, electricity, manufactoring, transportation, and construction.
Planet-friendly Eating Tips
There are things we can do to help get to net zero growth in greenhouse gases. Fortunately, in many cases, what’s good for personal health, is also good for planetary health.
Five specific ways you can reduce the carbon footprint of what you eat:
- Eat more plants.
- Eat more beans.
- Cut food waste.
- Choose local and seasonal produce.
- Look for carbon labeling.
Eat More Plants and Beans
Reducing meat and increasing plant-based foods is likely to make the biggest impact. This doesn’t mean that you need to become a vegetarian overnight. You don’t need to cut out meat completely – just mix it up with other foods and enjoy a few times a week instead of everyday. It’s definetly possible to achieve the planetary benefits of a vegan diet by reducing – even if you are not eliminating – meat and dairy. So don’t think you need to abandon beef and lamb, the largest sources of greenhouse gases. Just balance red meat meals with poultry, seafood and plant-based proteins. Add in more beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds whenever you can.
Cut Food Waste
Globally, about one-third of food is lost or wasted. Food that is wasted ends up in landfills, where it breaks down and forms the greenhouse gas methane. Throwing out food also represents a waste of the energy and water to produce that food. Focus on cutting down on food waste in your own life whenever possible and help the country get closer to its net zero goal. Plan before you go shopping, and buy only what you need. Be sure to use the food you already have and make sure to use the leftovers whenever possible.
Choose Local and Seasonal Produce
Transportation accounts for 6% of food’s total climate footprint so it helps to support local agriculture.
It’s always best to shop for what’s in season, of course. You can also visit seasonalfoodguide.org to find out what’s in season near you. When produce is at its seasonal peak, it is priced at it’s best and is also at its most nutrient-rich, colorful, flavorful best. A win overall.
Look for Carbon Labeling
Maybe you don’t think about climate too much when shopping for food, but hopefully you will as you learn more (and we all learn more) about making choices for the planet. Carbon labeling is kind of the new nutrition labeling. Now instead of just checking for calories, you can look for a food’s climate footprint.
You can check your carbon footprint at Panera and Chipotle. Chipotle introduced Real Footprint, which actually allows you to calculate how the ingredients in your meal stack up against counterparts on emissions (measured in grams), gallons of water saved, organic land supported and antibiotics avoided.
To learn more about eating sustainably and shrinking your own personal foodprint, visit FoodPrint.org.