With yesterday being Green Monday at DLG we figured this would be a great time to touch on food and climate change.
Believe it or not, the food we consume on a day-to-day basis has a huge impact on the climate. If we all become a little bit more conscious about the food we eat, then we have the power to mitigate our global CO2 emissions. The world’s food system accounts for about ¼ of the greenhouse gases that are responsible for warming the earth. Everything from processing, packaging, and shipping are all a part of this system.
The main ways food contributes to global warming are deforestation, the release of methane, and fossil fuels. When land is needed for farms and livestock, forests are cleared and destroyed in order to make room. Also, when cows, sheep, and goats digest their food, they burp up methane, which is a great contributor to global warming. And lastly, fossil fuels are used to operate farm machinery, make fertilizer, and ship food around the world.
In the food industry, meat and dairy (especially from cows) are responsible for about 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This amount is about the same as all vehicles, ships, and planes combined. On the other hand, plant-based foods have the smallest impact. But this does not mean you have to go vegan! The simple task of consuming less meat and dairy can help a lot. If you are looking for a substitute for meat, most fish have a less negative impact. Of course, plant-based alternatives such as beans, grains, and soy will be the most climate-friendly. One person can only do so much, which is why it is important for everyone to change their habits. Climate change is a worldwide problem that requires large-scale action. If the population continues to grow exponentially then we need to figure out a more efficient food system.
Meat has a much bigger impact than a plant-based alternative because it is a less efficient way to feed the world. It is much more efficient to grow crops for humans to consume rather than growing crops for animals so that we can then eat animals for food. In a study conducted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, it was found that “on average, it takes about three pounds of grain to raise one pound of meat.” Overall, it takes much more land, water, energy, and labor to create a pound of animal protein than it takes to make a pound of plant protein.
As mentioned before, wild fish generally have a smaller climate footprint. The same United Nations study reported that “a number of popular wild fish — anchovies, sardines, herring, tuna, pollock, cod, haddock — have, on average, a lower carbon footprint than chicken or pork. Mollusks like clams, oysters, and scallops are also great low-carbon choices.”
Dairy products do have a lower climate footprint than meats or eggs, however, there are some cheeses that have a much larger footprint than chicken or pork. This is because it normally takes about 10 pounds of milk to make a single pound of cheese. Alternative milks include almond, rice, oat, soy, hemp, and coconut milk. These alternatives are typically a lot more sustainable. Next time you need milk, try one of these options.
Options to help this issue can be simple by just making a few switches here and there. Cutting everything out is not necessary. However, this is a serious issue that requires great attention. If we can all partake in a couple of simple switches then we will help the environment for years to come.