Many people believe there is nothing they can do about global warming. This is simply not true. In the United States and other developed countries, we have endless choices about what to eat and drink, how to dress, where to live, and much more. Our lifestyle choices affect the environment in far-reaching ways. Some would argue that our lifestyle choices are partially responsible for the climate crisis that we face today.
The choice of what to eat is one we make several times each day, if we are lucky. Thus, our food choices impact global warming and the environment in multiple ways. But it can be easy to overlook the environmental impacts of our food, because often what appears on our plate is very different than what came from the earth. For example, when eating a hamburger, we may not think of the cow it came from. But the truth is that beef has a larger carbon footprint than any food. In fact, if every American eliminated just a quarter-pound serving of beef each week, it would have the equivalent impact of removing four to six million cars from the roads.
This doesn’t mean that we have to give up beef in order to fight global warming, because where our food comes from is even more important than what we choose to eat. This is true for both quality and location of production. Cows raised locally on pastured grassland have a much smaller carbon footprint than cows raised in a concentrated feeding operation on the other side of the country.
Transporting foods short distances rather than long distances clearly uses fewer fossil fuels. Unfortunately, because people are willing to pay four dollars for a pint of strawberries in February, many fossil fuels are consumed both to produce and transport those strawberries. Produce grown in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles before it is sold. Choosing produce that is locally grown and in-season is an excellent way to fight global warming.
Environmental vegetarians choose to forgo meat, and in some cases all animal products, because of the environmental impacts of animal-based foods. While eating locally and traditionally raised animal products is certainly better than the alternative, not eating meat at all is an even better choice when it comes to fighting global warming. Pigs raised in the backyard still have a much, much larger carbon footprint than local fruits and vegetables.
So, reducing our consumption of animal products and buying local food are effective ways to fight global warming. What other food choices impact global warming? Foods that are minimally processed (that is, have not been frozen, packaged, processed, or pre-cooked) are more environmentally friendly, and often healthier. One study found that it takes nearly three times as much energy to produce a bag of frozen carrots than a bag of fresh.
Yet another way we can fight global warming through our food is by reducing waste. According to USDA estimates, over 25 percent of food produced for people in the United States is either thrown away or used to feed animals. The average American household wastes 14 percent of its food purchases. Not only does waste reduction conserve resources, it also affects the nearly 1 billion people on the planet who are hungry every day.
Just as our food choices impact global warming, global warming is already affecting our food choices. The 2012 drought drove up prices for grain staples, causing famine in some places and rising prices in others. As the climate continues to change, crops that have historically been suited to certain regions will no longer grow as well. Responding to global warming will require farmers and agricultural experts to employ ingenuity and persistence. Consumers will have to adjust their expectations for prices and availability of certain foods. Nearly one billion people already suffer from hunger on a daily basis, and many more do not have adequate nutrition. There is no doubt that one of the greatest challenges of this century will be feeding a growing global population while the earth warms.
Considering that the average American is responsible for over 20 times as much carbon dioxide emission each year as the average Nigerian, the fact that our daily food choices impact global warming must not be ignored. Take direct action against global warming by buying locally sourced and sustainably grown food whenever possible.
– Kat Henrichs
Source:National Resources Defense Council