How the Foods We Eat Affect the Planet
Climate scientists increasingly focus on food production as a source of heat-trapping gases.
How is food one of the key factors in an environmental crisis that threatens the basis of life on earth?How is the environment affected by the foods we eat and the food system that produces them?
What choices can we as individuals make to lower our “food footprint”? How can you take a big bite out of climate change?
The Global Food Crisis
According to hunger statistics from WFP, 815 million people – one in nine – still go to bed on an empty stomach each night. We now have about 7.3 billion people who call planet Earth “home.” By the year 2050, this number is expected to increase to 9.7 billion. At the same time, due to the spread of prosperity, there’s an increased demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products; this demand boosts pressure to grow more corn and soybeans, as feed crops for animals.
The Food-Climate Connection
- Our current global food system is responsible for one-third of global greenhouse emissions.
- Almost every single aspect of our modern industrial system creates greenhouse gas emissions.
- Heavily industrialized agriculture, especially the conventional production of livestock, produces significant emissions of greenhouse gasses.
- Our current global food system completely depends on fossil fuels for transportation and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
- Agriculture is the largest use of water worldwide.
- Runoff from both synthetic fertilizers and animal waste are major polluters.
- As tropical forests contain at least half the Earth’s species, the clearance of some 17 million hectares each year is causing a dramatic loss of biodiversity.
|Main Sources of Emissions||Percent of the Total Global Warming Effect of Emissions|
|On the Farm Fertilizer production and distribution Methane and nitrous oxide emissions||1.5 to 2%
|On the Land Deforestation and other land use changes||18%|
|On the Road Transportation emissions from seed to plate||Specific food-system data unavailable|
|Additional Sources Waste and manufacturing||Specific food-system data unavailable|
|Estimated Total*||33% of the total global warming effect can be attributed to the food system.|
How can we feed the world—today and tomorrow?
Let’s begin with this video from Anna Lappé.
The biggest players in the food industry—from pesticide pushers to fertilizer makers to food processors and manufacturers—spend billions of dollars every year not selling food, but selling the idea that we need their products to feed the world. But, do we really need industrial agriculture to feed the world? Can sustainably grown food deliver the quantity and quality we need—today and in the future? Our first Food MythBusters movie takes on these questions in under seven minutes. So next time you hear them, you can too. – See more at: http://foodmyths.org/myths/hunger-food-security/#sthash.BHOC3Ajo.dpuf
Twentieth-Century Degradation of Our Food System
There’s just tremendous waste built into our food system, and then of course the outcome: creating a people such as we are today whose food is really a health threat, that many of our top diseases are now food-related.
— Frances Moore Lappe, author, Diet for a Small Planet
Agriculture has changed more in the past two generations than it did in the previous 12,000 years. The twentieth-century has seen the rapid and radical transformation of our food system from sustainably based, locally focused production, to a fossil-fuel addicted industrialized system. Unfortunately, almost every single aspect of our modern industrial system creates greenhouse gas emissions. Another big problem is the rapid growth of livestock production. Indeed, to produce 2.2 pounds of beef burns enough energy to light a 100 watt bulb for twenty days.
What YOU Can Do: Take a Big Bite out of Climate Change
Transition to a plant-based diet.
The single most important thing you can do is to transition to a plant-based diet. Choosing to eat less meat, or cutting out meat entirely, is one of the most important personal choices we can make to address climate change.
There has been a lot less discussion of meat than a lot of the other factors, in terms of what we can do as individuals to influence climate change… But we need to talk about diet, and if that’s where we can make our impact, then that’s what people need to know, and understand.
— Roni Neff, Research and Policy Director, Johns Hopkins Univ. Center for a Livable Future
If you look at the green split peas, lentils, black beans, these cost pennies… all of the beans are very, very high in protein. You’re not going to go wrong with beans.
— Neal Barnard, MD, founding president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Fruits and vegetables have the lowest environmental footprint; red meat and dairy have the highest environmental footprint. What’s fascinating is that public health experts recommend that we emphasize in our diets the same foods that scientists regard as most climate-friendly!
Reduce food waste and spoilage.
Eat foods in season, grown locally.
This minimizes gasoline usage in shipping.
Compost your leftover plant food in your garden.
This further reduces production of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
This cuts down on impulse buying of items that might spoil before you use them, and saves money.
Use smaller plates.
This is a natural incentive to eat less, trimming waste and waistlines!
Instead of fast, rushed food, savor your meal!
Slow down, eat with others, notice the delicious aromas, the sweet and sour flavors, the chewy textures. This way, it’s easier to be satisfied and grateful for your food.
Vote with your fork and take better care of yourself!
Remember that marketing of foods is for profit, not necessarily the health of your body or our planet!
For Further Exploration
- Blog post 5 Ways Factory Farming is Killing the Environment, by Kate Good
- Web article Think.Eat.Save: A Global Food Initiative | The Borgen Project
- Web article Taking a Bite out of Climate Change
- Website Food MythBusters
- Public radio project The Diet-Climate Connection
What Do You Think?
I would really enjoy hearing your thoughts on this important subject. To be honest, until I researched this post, I did not realize just how strong the ties are between agriculture and the environment. Did anything here surprise you? What have you done/ will you do to reduce your food footprint?