According to a 2006 study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the food we consume has big impacts on the environment, specifically through climate change. Anywhere from 15-30% of human-caused greenhouse gases comes from the production of food. Greenhouse gases are emitted at all levels of food production from fertilizing the land to applying pesticides to harvesting crops to refrigeration to transporting food to the grocery store. Growing different food items requires different resources. For example, producing a cheeseburger puts 11 times more greenhouses gases into our atmosphere than producing a chicken noodle soup. Choosing a beef and cheese burrito causes over 17 times more greenhouse gases in its production than a rice and bean burrito.
A simple step to reducing your food carbon footprint is to buy more locally grown products and eat fewer meat and dairy products. Buying food produced locally not only tastes fresh, but contributes to local economies. Visiting local farms or farmer’s markets is one way to access local food sources. On average, more resources and more greenhouse gases are emitted in the production of animal products. One study (Weber and Matthews 2008) found that by cutting meat out of a person’s diet one day a week, their greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by the equivalent of driving 1,160 fewer miles a year. Food writer Michael Pollan has stated that if all American households eliminated meat from one dinner per week, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to taking 30 to 40 million cars off of our roads. We choose what to eat several times a day and looking at what is on the end of our forks is one big step towards reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately reducing our contribution to climate change.
To find out what your food carbon footprint is, visit www.eatlowcarbon.org.
Eileen Everett is a Climate Change Educator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Albuquerque.