There’s more to our carbon footprint than sustainable hair care. How and what we eat is a big part of the impact we have on our environment.
While your individual choices might seem small, the collective effect of many people changing their habits can be tremendously impactful. Also, climate-friendly food comes with significant health benefits, so a shift in your diet and food choices is a win-win:
one for you and one for the planet.
When making climate-friendly food choices, consider the lifecycle of your food, including its farming and processing, transportation, packaging, warehousing, distribution, and refrigeration.
Starting from scratch? Here’s our recipe for how each of us can help repair the planet’s ecosystem...deliciously.
1. Eat your veggies!
Meat and dairy production consumes the majority of the world’s farmland and contributes a significant portion of the planet’s greenhouse emissions. If more people chose plant-based meals over meat and dairy, greenhouse gases could be lowered dramatically.
Seriously –– if cows were a country, they would rank number two in greenhouse emissions after China and before the U.S.
If hamburgers are your guilty pleasure, we get it. You don’t have to cut out meat altogether to make a difference. Start by reducing red and processed meat. And if you do eat meat, choose local, sustainably-raised meat. It’s more expensive but it’s healthier for you (less/no hormones, better protein) and supports smaller-scale farms that are better at maintaining the land and soil.
2. Watch your waste
Food waste is another major contributor to greenhouse gases.
About 30% of all food produced in the world is wasted every year — 40% in the U.S.
Food waste hurts us in two ways: we throw away all the energy we used to make the food in the first place (land use, fossil fuels, water, transportation, etc), and then we produce methane gas when it rots in landfills (which further heats the planet).
According to the World Resource Institute, if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the U.S. And a study by Project Drawdown, a coalition of experts focused on climate change solutions, ranks reducing food waste as the number three action item out of 80.
Want to waste less? Here are our top tips to reduce food waste:
- Plan out your meals and be mindful of what you can actually eat in a week (in other words, don’t shop when you’re hungry)
- Properly store your foods to avoid premature spoiling, and freeze leftovers to eat them within a few days (bonus: this is a major time saver!)
- Make good use of your leftovers –– throw excess veggies into a soup, or make a smoothie with fruits that haven’t been eaten
- Don’t hold food to high beauty standards; the more ugly, almost spoiled food consumers buy, the less it will be sorted and thrown out by farms, processors, and supermarkets
- When you do have waste, compost it, don’t throw it out (excluding meat!) –– this is much better for the climate and also provides you with beautiful, nutrient-rich soil for your garden or house plants
3. Eat local
Thanks to fossil fuel subsidies that we take for granted (billions of dollars WE give to companies to make fuel seem cheap), we’re accustomed to shipping food very long distances (the 3,000-mile salad, as it's known). That means food is harvested much earlier than is ideal for maximum nutritional benefit, and significant greenhouse gases are emitted during transportation and other steps of the supply chain.
The antidote? Support your community and buy local, especially from farms and vendors that use sustainable techniques. Better land management enhances the ability of soil to store carbon rather than release it into the atmosphere. Given the earth’s soils contain more than three times the amount of carbon in our atmosphere, that’s a big win.
4.Keep it fresh
According to Richard Manning, author of Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, “Processed food is energetically very expensive when it comes to environmental impacts.” Processing, manufacturing, packaging, and transporting food all involve water, fuel, and energy use that negatively impacts the environment. Fresh food is more sustainable, much healthier, and tastier too.
5. Bulk up
Finally, to reduce plastic and other packaging waste, buy in bulk at supermarkets and from farms or farmer’s markets. Don’t forget to bring your own bags for vegetables and fruits! Food packaging is a major polluter that’s easy to get carried away with, but avoidable with a minimal amount of pre-planning.
Jonathan Drew, Cristina Cleghorn, Alexandra Macmillan, Anja Mizdrak. Healthy and Climate-Friendly Eating Patterns in the New Zealand Context. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2020; 128 (1): 017007 DOI: 10.1289/EHP5996