Most of the public has finally accepted that red meat and fried foods aren’t great for us.
We’ve also learned about the miracles of plant-based diets from Beyonce and many other folks in the spotlight. Now experts have discovered that the strategies for cutting cholesterol and maximizing nutrition may also help combat climate change.
Scientists estimate that about one-quarter of the greenhouse gases generated by humans each year come from the world’s food system. Because we all eat food, we all participate in a system that’s exacerbating climate change. Fortunately, with every meal there are choices we can make to decrease our food system’s negative impacts.
Here are some ways you can be a climate-friendly eater:
Eat Less Meat and Dairy (Or None at All)
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global livestock produce 2.3 gigatonnes of CO2 a year, which amounts to 5% of the greenhouse gases emitted annually.
Given that the production of animal products altogether generate about 75% of total food-related emissions, eating less meat and dairy — as well as more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes — is one of the most impactful ways to reduce your food footprint.
The average greenhouse gas impact of producing 100 grams of protein from beef is 105 kg of CO2, whereas producing the same amount of nut protein generates 1.35 kg of CO2. Livestock farming also contributes to deforestation, fresh water scarcity and pollution, and a number of other environmentally damaging practices.
A number of studies have cited a reduction in animal-based food consumption as essential to being able to meet the carbon reduction levels necessary to curb the worst of climate change.
Support Climate-Friendly Fisheries
According to WWF, 90% of global fish stocks are either being used at an unsustainable level or have reached their maximum level of use. Changing environmental conditions, along with illegal and overfishing activities, have destabilized major ecological systems in oceans. These problems threaten the livelihood of three billion people around the world.
It turns out that choosing sustainable seafood is harder than it seems. There are so many factors: where the fish come from, how they are caught (or farmed), and how the local environment is safeguarded (or not). Nonetheless, you can stay informed about which fish are being sustainably harvested by checking science-based sources such as Seafood Watch, the EDF Seafood Selector and the Marine Stewardship Council.
Choose Sustainable Produce Options
Industrial agriculture is the dominant means of produce production in the United States. This business sector relies heavily on the use of synthetic chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers to fulfill its massive scale. It also emphasizes monoculture, the practice of intensively growing single crops on mass scales. These water and fuel-intensive systems result in the destruction of essential biodiversity.
In addition to being dependent on fossil fuels and contributing to the decline of biodiversity, these practices can lead to a myriad of other environmental hazards. For example, monoculture agriculture requires the use of synthetic fertilizers, and fertilizer runoff contributes to water pollution that costs taxpayers nearly $2 billion a year to clean up.
To strengthen alternatives to industrial agribusiness, support sustainable farmers who manage water wisely, minimize pollution, promote biodiversity and maintain soil health. Resources to help you identify great sustainable food producers include How Good, Good Guide and EWG.
An overlooked but incredibly important way to adopt a more climate-friendly diet is to simply waste less food. In just the U.S., 30-40% of all food is wasted — more than 20 pounds of food per person every month.
In fact, 40% of what farmers produce gets thrown away. According to the EPA, food waste in landfills produces a substantial amount of methane, which is 21 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. About 25% of the food purchased by American families is disposed of.
The NRDC recommends advocating for businesses and governments to adopt changes that remove the inefficiencies in the food supply system such as implementing municipal compost programs. The organization also recommends that consumers avoid over-buying by better planning meals and cutting impulse purchases.
Healthier Climate, Healthier You
These are just some of the many ways you can do your part to support a more sustainable food system. Most of these suggestions also go hand-in-hand with cultivating a healthier lifestyle in general.
Turns out, what’s good for the planet is also what’s good for your health. By adopting these habits, we can eat our way to a climate-friendly food system.
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