Food and climate change

Food is a delicacy around the world, unique to everyone’s own culture, and celebrations throughout the year. Unfortunately, our food systems of today are not able to sustain the 8 billion people on the planet without risking detriment to the environment.

Food system activities like producing, transporting, and storing wasted food all contribute to the global picture of climate change through GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions – livestock production contributes to an estimated total of 14.5%. This means that the next time you consider getting a burger, the meat production was the highest emission intensive out of the rest of the ingredients.

GHG emissions from food systems predominantly come from food production standing at 83%, 11% for transportation, and 5% for food retail.

Our food systems contribute gravely to climate change that is by 2050 we were to switch to renewable energies and public policy and infrastructure investments have made walking, cycling, and public transit the most accessible and popular forms of transportation while air travel is kept to a minimum, but we still continue in the global-trends of meat/dairy production/consumption, we will have a challenging time staying below the two degree celsius threshold.

Lowering your “foodprint” is one of the easiest ways to still get all the nutrition you need while making a positive difference in our food systems. When planning meals, you might want to consider some of the following questions:

  • How low on the food chain is this?
  • How much energy goes into producing it?
  • Is it grown organically?
  • How far did it travel to get to the store/table?

Eating more plant-based meals is an effective way to reduce your emission footprint. According to Meat Free Monday, skipping meat for one day of the week can reduce your annual footprint as much as not driving your car for the entire month.  The main reason why meat and dairy yield high levels of emissions are that growing animal is a very inefficient system;  it takes about five to seven kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef. A Boston Consulting Group report found that, for each dollar, investment in improving and scaling up production of meat and dairy alternatives resulted in three times more greenhouse gas reductions compared with investment in green cement technology, seven times more than green buildings, and 11 times more than zero-emission cars. Planning ahead and choosing vegetarian and vegan dishes when going to restaurants is an additional way to enjoy a meatless menu alternative without giving up the comfort of the occasional outing.

Another way to reduce your “foodprint” is to eat organic and shop local whenever possible. Food grown locally produces fewer transportation emissions, is fresher, and supports local farmers. Food traveling contributes to 11% of the overall emissions – the average meal travels 1,200 kilometers from the farm to plate. The overall emissions though come from the production – one study showed that lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped 18,000 kilometers to the U.K. produced less than one-quarter of the greenhouse gases of locally raised British lamb. Shipping the lamb to the U.K. was responsible for only 5% of greenhouse gases the other 80% were from farm activities. Buying local and reducing these emissions significantly. However, while buying local is a great step forward in the right direction, buying local and organic is a better choice for the environment. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are often made from fossil fuels. Studies have shown that chemical farming uses more energy per unit compared to organic farming since synthetic nitrogen fertilizers produce nitrous oxide, 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Growing your own food is a great way to enjoy fresh produce minus the negative impact. Check out a few of our blogs on tips to help you start your own vegetable garden:

Lastly, cut overconsumption and reduce the amount of food waste produced in your household. About 20% of Canada’s methane emissions comes from landfills. When people throw food out, all the resources to grow, ship, package and produce it are wasted too, including massive amounts of water. Some ways you as an individual can reduce food waste is by turning scraps into delicious meals by looking at cooking websites or social media influencers specializing in this field. There are also some tips you can use to increase the shelf-life of your ingredients as shared by the David Suzuki Foundation:

  1. Avoid plastic produce bags and take produce out of plastic wrappings. Airtight wrappings suffocate fresh produce and speed up the decay process.
  2. Don’t wash produce until you’re ready to eat it. Moisture encourages decomposition and mold growth.
  3. Don’t rip off fruit stems. Once living cells are broken, microorganisms start to grow. Keep producing whole as long as possible.
  4. Eat the most perishable items first. Raspberries last a few days. Potatoes can hang around for about a month.
  5. If you want, speed up the ripening process by putting the item (a peach, for example) in a paper bag with a banana.
  6. Store herbs with stems (such as cilantro and parsley) in a jar with water in the fridge. Don’t forget to change the water a few times a week!

The responsibility for reducing the impact food systems have on the environment due to the food chain falls heavily on countries like the U.S. with the highest per capita consumption of meat and dairy. Changing diets on an international scale to protect the environment will need additional steps beyond the basic token actions and educating the public – national policies will need to shift in ways that support more plant-focused diets. However, as an individual and climate citizen, it is necessary that you take the steps necessary to reduce your own footprint and encourage others to do the same.

We are all in this together!! At Green Schools Green Future we support Organic & Local!!

Written by Sarah Syed


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