Between fires in California and Australia, freezing early Midwest winters, flooding and droughts across the country, climate change is finally feeling very, very real.
If you’re wondering how to fight climate change on an individual level, food is a great place to start.
Food is the easiest way you can make an impact.
If you eat, changing your food habits is one of the easiest, quickest and most effective things you can do to help reverse climate change. If you haven’t yet, check out this post about the top 4 things you can do to reduce climate change with food.
Read on to learn why it’s so important to change our food habits now.
The top 3 things to know about food and climate change
1. Food is responsible for over a QUARTER of all emissions causing climate change.
The environmental impacts caused by food reach far beyond what we buy at the grocery store. The food system is complex and elaborate, with emissions that happen at every step.
First, our food has to be grown, fed, watered and raised. Then it’s harvested, processed, packaged, transported and stored until we buy it and take it home. Around 40% of the time, we throw our food into a landfill, where it further contributes to climate change by emitting methane (a powerful greenhouse gas that is 84x more potent than CO2).
Given everything that happens along our food systems, plus the fact that we have 7.5 billion people to feed, it’s not surprising that food impacts the environment so much.
2. Not all food is created equal.
Meat, vegetables, dairy, grains, processed foods… They’re all created in different ways, which means that some are easier on the environment than others.
Meat is the hardest on the environment because producing it is very inefficient. It’s responsible for 70% of all agricultural land use, including land for food and raising the animals themselves, and 30% of land use globally. Between all the food, energy and resources it takes to raise an animal, meat production causes 14.5% of human-related climate change emissions (FAO).
Of the meat we eat, beef has the greatest impact on the environment. Cattle produces 65% of the world’s livestock-related emissions (FAO). And for every 100 calories of food a cow eats, only 3 calories of meat are produced (ERL). If we ate the food that gets fed to the cattle (mostly grains), we would be able to feed many more people, and we’d save the energy and emissions it takes to raise beef.
In the US, the average person consumes 3x more meat than the global average (ScienceMag). There’s a reason everyone is talking about cutting back meat consumption. If you’re wondering how to fight climate change, eating less meat–especially beef–is one of the top things you can do. This is not a drill. The problem is very, very real.
3. Food waste is one of the top causes of climate change.
Around 40% of the food we produce in America gets wasted. In 2010, Americans threw out 133 billion pounds of food, equal to $161 billion (USDA). This is equal to about $1500 per year for the average family of four (CNBC).
Food waste causes 8% of climate change emissions because when you throw food out, 1.) it emits methane when it sits in a landfill, and 2.) all of the resources and emissions that went into making it also get wasted (Drawdown).
It’s easy to let things go bad and throw them out. Be mindful of your waste and do your best to adopt new habits to reduce it!
Plus, 2 bonus facts
4. Conventional agriculture is more harmful than you think.
Buy organic whenever you can. Our overreliance on fertilizers has made it so most of our farmlands have lost 40-50% of their nutrients needed to grow crops (FCRN). Farmers no longer plant cover crops to draw nutrients into the soil, which means fields go bare between harvest and sewing seeds, and essential organic matter isn’t worked into the soil before the next year. Organic farms have to rely at least in some part on organic matter to boost the nutrients their crops need to grow.
A study by UC Berkeley found that fertilizers used to grow conventional crops cause the release of nitrous oxide–a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than CO2 (UC Berkeley). In addition, fertilizers run off into our water streams, causing overgrowth of algae and other microorganisms, which take up most of the oxygen in the water, causing massive “dead zones” where aquatic life can’t survive.
Fertilizers are also very harmful to farmers, causing various health conditions from asthma to depression and anxiety.
5. Your food is more traveled than you are.
The produce you find in large grocery store chains has traveled an average of 1500 miles to get to you (CUESA). The emissions from food travel account for less than 18% of food-related emissions, but buying local food is still an easy and great way to make a positive impact on the environment (Our World in Data).
Find a local farmers market and buy the tastiest in-season produce from awesome farmers. It’s one of my favorite things to do on the weekend. There’s nothing like saying hi to your local farmers and buying food from someone you know. Farmers markets are wonderful community events that bring everyone together.
There’s a lot more to know about food and our longevity on this planet. If you want to read more about the facts, check out these links:
NYT – Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered
Drawdown – Food Solutions
FAO – Climate Change and Your Food
Yale Climate Connection – A brief guide to the impacts of climate change on food production
TIME – Climate Change Is Likely to Devastate the Global Food Supply. But There’s Still Reason to Be Hopeful
Hopefully, now you know how urgent it is for us to heal our planet. Climate change isn’t just about saving our planet, it’s about preserving our environment so humans can thrive. Food is one the easiest and most effective way to do that.
If you haven’t yet, check out my post on the top ways to reduce climate change with food. It’ll help you take what you learned here and turn it into action. Happy eating!