Ways in which People can help the Planet through their Food Choices
It should be comprehensively understood that what people eat matters. The daily food choices have a significant effect on the environment in which people live. However, there is some great revelation in that even the slightest changes in what people buy and consume can add up to benefiting the environment in a big way. Among the notable benefits are few toxic chemicals, reduction in global warming emissions, and preservation of the ocean resources. When human eat green food, it means that they are eating fresher and healthier foods while at the same time they reduce their grocery bills and support the farmers.
People can easily overlook the impacts of the food choices on the environment because the impacts are spread across all phases of a long and complicated process. Such long and complicated processes as farm to fork, food production, processing, and transportation can lead to the accumulation of energy, water, and harmful chemicals. Therefore, when a human is thinking globally, they should no longer eat only food to feed themselves, but they should do it in such a way they can be able to sustain the whole world. This seems like a heavy and complicated that need not be put on the plates three times a day. However, it can be as simple as eating more plants and foods.
According to research, there is increased global trend towards a diet from the Western countries. The diet contains highly processed and high levels of sugar, meat, salt, and fat. The diet is the leading contributor to the increase in the emissions of the greenhouse gas as well as chronic health conditions. The same research suggests that adhering to the plant-based diet can go a long way in reversing these dangerous effects.
Food Choices and the Planet
It is not only how human chooses to travel or heat their homes that are the great determinant of their carbon footprint. According to the above introduction, what they also eat impacts on the climate. People need to have a comprehensive understanding of the resources that are used to produce their meals so that they become aware of the link between food and how they can help the planet thus reducing global warming and contributing to the climate change debate. This will also go a long way into ensuring that they have made better choices. Many are the factors which contribute to the climate impact of the food. Among the factors are (Meehl et al., 2007):
- The level of the food in the food chain
- The amount of energy used to produce the food
- Whether the food is grown organically or with chemicals
- The distance the food has to cover before getting onto the table
All is not lost because there are ways in which people can help the planet regarding global warming and climate change through their choices of food. Below are some of the suggestions according to the research:
Choose Climate-friendly Food
Some of the foods originating from the high end of the food chain and which arrives at the table after going through extensive processing is tend to acquire and accumulate more energy. The same food also releases more global warming into the air than the food that has not gone through extensive processing. For example, the carbon footprint of hamburger comprises of all the fossil fuels that might have been used in the production of fertilizer and pumping the irrigation water while growing the corn through which the cow was fed. Additionally, it may also include some of the emissions which converted forest lands into a land a where cows were grazed. Meant for the ruminant animals such as cows, goats, and sheep contain specifically large carbon footprint because of the presence of methane. Methane is a potent gas that contributes to global warming and which is released from the manure and animals’ digestion. According to the estimations, if all people were to eliminate a quarter pound taking of beer every week, the extent to which the emissions of the global warming gas would be reduced is equivalent to taking approximately six million cars from the road.
Seafood is also known to be another significant contributor to the pollution of the global warming. Open-ocean fishing fleets entirely depend on dirty fossils. In the process, they emit close to 130 millions of tons of carbon dioxide every year. There are highly sought-after fish stocks such as tuna, imported swordfish, and bluefin among others. These fish stocks have a high likelihood of being overfished which will result in additional sea travel and pollution of global warming. The said fish also have high levels of accumulation of mercury which can harmful human health in a great way. Now the question is what can people do to prevent this?
- People need to eat food on the lower end of the food chain while eating more of fruits, vegetables, and grains to their diet. They should also limit their intake of the red meat. Additionally, this is likely to reduce the risk and chances of coronary disease and colorectal cancer while at the same time they reduce money spent on grocery.
- People should also choose fish or herbivorous farmed stocks such as tilapia, catfish, and carp which has been caught locally and managed sustainably. Some of the seafood on the lower end of the food chain includes clams, mussels, and squid.
- People should also look for fresh foods whose processing needs few steps from the farm to the table. There is an increase in energy use when food is frozen, packaged, processed, cooked, and refrigerated. According to research, having a frozen bag of carrots at home nearly triples the associated pollution of global warming about having a fresh bag of carrots.
Buy Organically Grown Foods
Ecological labels give people an opportunity to reward the performance of the environment in the marketplace. Organic agriculture is one of the safest choices for the environmental sustainability and the existence of people since organic growers do not apply synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. The use of pesticides on plants degrades the quality of air and water while at the same time it threatens the health of workers, communities, and the farmers. Furthermore, organic farming is also more advantageous than conventional agriculture because it helps to reduce pollution of the global warming.
People may be greatly and powerfully contributing to fight against global warming when they choose organically grown food. Unfortunately, the widely spread use of chemicals in farming, as well as removal of the plant residue, lead to the death and eliminations of a large number of soil organisms and eventual release of the constituent carbon into the atmosphere because as has been seen before carbon dioxide leads to increase in the global warming. The global results of this are amazing:
“The earth’s five billion acres of degraded soil has a low carbon and therefore, needs vegetative cover to restore the carbon. Increasing the carbon content of the degraded soil at very high rates can absorb as much carbon as all that is emitted by the human activity on earth.” (Rodale Institute Farming System Trial)
Organic farming, therefore, plays a significant role in the efforts to slow climate change from the runaway increases in greenhouse gasses. However, this method of farming will not be possible if it is not supported by the people buying and preferring organically grown food. Therefore, people should take it upon themselves to be buying organically grown foods and other types of certified foods whenever they can. When people choose to eat organically grown and certified foods such as legumes and grains among others, they will be improving their health and also by their choices they will be insisting on organic farming. This way they will be helping the planet by combating global warming in some of the major ways.
People should watch their Food Waste
According to research by a firm in the United States, it is estimated that close to 27% of all food by weight produced by the people of the United States is either thrown away, or the people use it for a lower purpose such as feeding the animals. Additionally, according to the recent studies, it is estimated that the average household in the United States waste 15% of the food it purchases. This is a loss of significant value to the families. Furthermore, adding the water, energy, pesticides, and pollution of global warming that were used in the process of producing, packaging, and transporting the unwanted food, almost all of this waste ends up in the landfills where it releases some of the dangerous global warming gases such as methane as it decomposes (Smith, 2015).
Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions from wasted food
There are several emissions associated with particularly wasted food. Wasted food is responsible for close to 140 million tons of greenhouse gas yearly which are also close to 1.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions. In comparison to a typical car food, wastage is a lot more dangerous. A typical car is only responsible for about 9000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Food wastage emissions do not include food from the restaurants and hotels or the energy use in the process of preparing the food from farm to fork. What can, therefore, be done to curb this?
- People should only purchase foods that they can consume before they reach their expiry thus minimizing wastage of food as well as shrinking their grocery bill.
- People should compost their food wastage thus reducing the emissions of the greenhouse gas and the need for the farmers for synthetic fertilizer.
Eat Locally Available Food
In the United States, their typical food contains ingredients from foreign countries. This is the typical case with all people around the world. Additionally, the domestically grown food travels long distances before coming to their final destination where they are sold. What people do not know is that buying locally produced and grown food products can lead to the reduction of pollution and the energy associated with the transporting of the products, storing them, and eventually refrigerating. This becomes the reality for the food products moving from one place to another by airplane such as perishable goods including cherries, blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes, raspberries, and bell peppers among many others (Gutknecht, 2009).
In the United States, California imports food distributed throughout the country. It is estimated that the smog-forming emissions from the importation of fruits and vegetables are almost equivalent to the yearly emissions from 2 million cars. Therefore, what are people supposed to do to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from eating imported food? People should choose local food whenever there is that possibility and avoid which has been imported from far nations by airplane. However, these people should keep in their understanding that the type of food they eat and how it was produced may affect the environment significantly.
Eating with the Seasons
The typical eating of the foods which has been grown locally in some seasons can significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gas. Additionally, it supports a nation’s local farmers and the community’s food security as well as offering the people meals packed with their flavors. As in the case of the United States, people should enjoy fresh asparagus in the spring season while enjoying eggplants in the summer. This will go a long way in the process of reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
Tomatoes appearing during the winter season in Washington might have traveled from outside the Washington region or might have been grown in a hothouse. Both of these methods producing the tomatoes require additional input in the fuel which produces them. If they are grown in the hothouse, they might have been grown through fossil fuels for plastic covering and heating them. This method of growing and producing these foods increases the amount of greenhouse gas and therefore global warming. During winter and any other season, people should consume locally grown greens, leeks, onions, hard squashes, apples, and root vegetables which go with that particular season (DeWeerdt, 2015).
Eating Sustainable Meat
The production of livestock is contributing to up to 20% of the global human cause greenhouse gas emissions according to the research by the United Nations. The carbon dioxide portion of the greenhouse gas emissions originates from the deforestation and other various changes in the land use for grazing and production of animal feeds. It also derives from fossil fuels people use in the refrigeration, transportation, and fertilizing the crops for the production of the animal feeds. It does not require any research to show that there are various better ways through which people can make the production of their livestock less greenhouse intensive through feeding, farming, transporting, and processing practices. Pastured animals can digest their foods better thus producing fewer emissions of methane gas. According to the recent studies from Lincoln University, for the Britain, importing dairy products from New Zealand produces fewer emissions of carbon dioxide than consuming dairy products on a concentrated diet in the British feedlots (Hamerschlag, 2011).
For the people who consume meat, by simply reducing the amount of meat in their diets from about 30% of calories to 20%, they are likely to have the same impact on personal emissions of greenhouse gas as changing from driving a Camry to Prius hybrid. This is according to the studies by Eshel and Martin of the University of Chicago. Nutritionists also recommend three ounces of meat for better health which is far less than what many people in the United States consume in their diet. If the people were to adjust their diet, it would be beneficial for their health. Additionally, they will have helped the planet.
According to other studies, fish-based diet is also similar to the red meat-based diet of greenhouse gas they emit. Other diets similar in the emission of greenhouse gas are chicken and diets that are based on the proteins from the dairy products and eggs. A vegetable-based diet produces efficient energy and emits low greenhouse gas because it contains fewer calories from the animal produces. Therefore, it is advisable that people should switch to the plant-based diet. This is the only diet capable of trimming international greenhouse gas emissions by at least 6%.
Home Energy and Growing Own Food
In the convenience of their own houses, more than 30% of the energy in the United States process of the food supply is consumed in food refrigeration, cooking, and washing the dishes. Additionally, refrigerators are the home appliances which consume more energy than other home appliances. People need to purchase renewable energy from the utilities or at the same time install hot water at their homes thus eliminating emissions from their use of home energy. People are also likely to eliminate emissions from transportation, manufacturing, and packaging. Such foods will also be fresher than having to purchase foods from outside.
Reducing the distance food travels before reaching you by growing own food, the need for processing and refrigeration also reduces thus minimizing spoilage of food which would have to be wasted and emit greenhouse gasses. Growing own food also reduces the chances of having to grow food using chemicals. People do not need very large spaces to grow great vegetables. They can use their balconies or patio space. They should try to grow herbs, tomatoes, and lettuce among other veggies. Other simple ways to which people can help the planet through their choices of food is by reading labels when they are shopping and talking to the produce managers at the stores where they purchase their grocery (Trivedi, 2008).
Many things are not right in the food system. The current food system is not working for both people and the planet. It is also not sustainable for the future. Therefore, it should change. People have the power to start reshaping the food system and mind about the future of the planet. Through the food people eat, they can together influence the governments and businesses and demand that they start making serious considerations and influences in the choice of the food people eat. This paper has examined some of the ways through which people can help the planet through their food choices. Besides some of the ways appearing in this paper, there are other ways which should be explored by the future research thus helping people make better choices in the food they eat. This is the only way to the people are going to help the planet regarding climate change and global warming.
DeWeerdt, S. (2015). Is Local Food Better?
Gutknecht, D. (2009, September/October). Global Warming on Your Plate: It’s more than “food miles” — it’s “food energy”.
Hamerschlag, K. (2011, July). Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change and Health.
Meehl, G. A., Stocker, T. F., Collins, W. D., Friedlingstein, P., Gaye, A. T., Gregory, J. M., & Raper, S. C. (2007). Global climate projections. Climate change, 3495, 747-845.
Smith, R. (2015, January 22). How Reducing Food Waste Could Ease Climate Change.
Trivedi, B. (2008, September 11). New Scientist.