Carbon footprint scale of meat eating icon.png

Not all foods are created equal! The carbon footprint of different foods on a per-food-calorie basis varies wildly..[1] Plants produce more calories on the same amount of land and emit less carbon dioxide and methane than animals. Foods with the lowest associated carbon footprints include:

  • Grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables.
  • Anything you grow yourself without fossil fuel inputs.
  • Chicken — Not particularly low footprint but the lowest among meats.

Foods with the highest carbon footprints include:

  • Red meat — Meat production requires a lot of land for growing animal feed, which is the main driver of deforestation globally.
  • Dairy — Cattle also emits considerable amounts of methane.[2]
  • Processed foods — Requiring refrigeration and anything air-freighted or grown in most greenhouses (except Iceland where they are heated geothermally).

Planning meals ahead of time can help avoid the temptation to purchase prepared foods and take advantage of fresh, local food that is in season.

Eat less meat[edit | edit source]

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Reducing your meat consumption can not only improve your health,[3] make you live longer,[4] be in line with your ethics, and many more benefits; it can also help solving environmental issues such as deforestation and climate change. This is mainly because meat production requires a lot of land for growing animal feed. Meat production industry is one of the most harmful industries for the environment as it causes a massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions and wastes large amounts of water and grain.

Even though it might be tough, reducing meat consumption will lower the demand for meat, in turn reducing the environmental impact of this industry. Producing plant-based foods generally results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires less energy, land, and water. This is why eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and less meat and dairy, can significantly lower your environmental impact.[5]

In addition, you can reduce your impact on the environment by buying local. Buying local products and other goods not only reduces some of the energy consumption involved in the transport of food, it also supports local farmers[6] and growers in your community.[7]

Eat local and seasonal foods[edit | edit source]

A more sustainable means of acquiring food is to purchase locally. Buying food from local farmers reduces carbon offsets, caused by long-distance food transport, and stimulates the local economy.[8] Also, in addition to buying local food, the food you buy is best seasonally grown. You can obtain seasonal food by buying the products which are now in season from farmers' markets.W Seasonally grown food is grown and harvested within their suitable growing season.W Thus, seasonal foodW farming does not require energy intensive greenhouse production, extensive irrigation, plastic packaging and long-distance transport from importing non-regional foods, and other environmental stressors.[9] Local, seasonal produce is typically fresher, unprocessed and argued to be more nutritious. Local produce also contains less to no chemical residues from applications required for long-distance shipping and handling.[10]

Obtaining food from farmers in short supply chains[edit | edit source]

Conventional food distribution is additionally resource and energy exhaustive. A shorter supply chain increases efficiency and so also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Obtaining food from organic farmers[edit | edit source]

Purchasing and supporting organic products is another fundamental contribution to sustainable living. Organic farming is a rapidly emerging trend in the food industry and in the web of sustainability. According to the USDAW National Organic Standards BoardW (NOSB), organic agriculture is defined as "an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, or enhance ecological harmony. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people." Upon sustaining these goals, organic agriculture uses techniques such as crop rotationW, permaculture, compost, green manure and biological pest controlW. In addition, organic farming prohibits or strictly limits the use of manufactured fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulatorsW such as hormonesW, livestock antibioticsW, food additivesW and genetically modified organismsW.[11] Organically farmed products include vegetables, fruit, grains, herbs, meat, dairy, eggs, fibers, and flowers. See organic certificationW for more information.

Growing your own food[edit | edit source]

Growing your own vegetables isn't only a way to save a few coins, it is a way to reduce your carbon footprint. When growing your own food organically, you are reducing the number of chemicals that find their way into the environment. In addition, with your favorite herbs outside or on your windowsill, you don't have to make numerous trips to the grocery store for a supply. By reducing the time that you use your car, you are significantly reducing the number of carbon emissions to the environment. Besides having healthy foods to feed your family, you become kinder to the environment while at it.[12]

In addition to local, small-scale farms, there has been a recent emergence in growing ones own food; ie using community gardens or private home gardens. With this trend, both farmers and ordinary people are becoming involved in food productionW. This helps in reducing carbon offsets even more, and also increases self-sufficiency.

Another way to become involved in growing your own food is by joining a local community-supported agriculture (CSA). A CSA consists of a community of growers and consumers who pledge to support a farming operation while equally sharing the risks and benefits of food production. CSA's usually involve a system of weekly pick-ups of locally farmed vegetables and fruits, sometimes including dairy products, meat and special food items such as baked goods.[13] Considering the previously noted rising environmental crisis, the United States and much of the world is facing immense vulnerability to famine. Local food production ensures food security if potential transportation disruptions and climatic, economical, and sociopolitical disasters were to occur.[8]

Food preservation and storage[edit | edit source]

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Habaneros drying for further preservation.

Preserving and storing foods reduces reliance on long-distance transported food and the market industry. Home-grown foods can be preserved and stored outside of their growing season and continually consumed throughout the year, enhancing self-sufficiency and independence from the supermarket. Food can be preserved and saved by dehydration (e.g. solar food drying, freezing, vacuum packing, canning, bottling, pickling and jellying.[14]

Food preservation is inseparable from where the food is stored. The storage of food is done in a suitable environment. This often means a dry, cool place. There are several places in which food can be stored. These include Food storage rooms as pantry's (rooms in the house, near the kitchen) or separate food storage rooms (ie above ground, earth bermed, or even underground (ie root cellars; store rooms, even mere burial is possible)). As such, at least 1 food storage technique is often employed (cooling). The following list describes the food preservation techniques we can use:

It should be noted however that each foodstuff is more suitable to one or another type of food storage (not all types are suitable for every foodstuff). Tuberous root crops for example are best stored in a moist environment (as these crops are still alive and able to take up water). They can be buried in buckets filled with wet sand and stored below (see "root cellar") or above ground (ie during winter). As each food storage technique requires special equipment, the crops grown in each community are best selected carefully so that as little as possible different storage techniques are needed (hence allowing more cost-effective food storage).

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "The Impacts - 2011 Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change + Health". Environmental Working Group. 2011. "Lamb, beef and cheese have the highest emissions. This is true, in part, because they come from ruminant animals that constantly generate methane through their digestive process, called enteric fermentation. Methane (CH4) – a greenhouse gas 25 times more (CH4) potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), accounts for nearly half the emissions generated in this study's Nebraska beef production model (...). Pound for pound, ruminants also require significantly more energy-intensive feed and generate more manure than pork or chicken (...)."
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8567486/
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/meatless-meals/art-20048193#:~:text=The%20health%20factor,heart%20disease%20than%20nonvegetarians%20do.
  4. https://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/01/health/meat-eaters-risk-of-death-plant-protein/index.html
  5. https://www.un.org/node/143154#plant-based-food
  6. https://greenlivingguy.com/2021/02/organic-herbal-farming-and-its-benefit-to-the-environment/
  7. https://greenlivingguy.com/2020/04/5-great-tips-to-make-your-home-eco-friendly/
  8. 8.0 8.1 Astyk, Sharon (2008)
  9. Seymour, John. The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It. London: DK Publishing, 2003.
  10. Princen, Thomas. The Logic of Sufficiency. New York: MIT Press, 2005.
  11. Organic Agriculture - What is Organic Agriculture? Iowa State University. 2008. Web. Retrieved on: 18 Nov 2010.
  12. https://greenlivingguy.com/2021/07/back-to-green-basics-how-the-change-starts-with-you/
  13. Nabhan, Gary. Coming Home to Eat. Berkeley, CA: W.W. Norton, 2002.
  14. Ciperthwaite, Wm. A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity. New York: Chelsea Green, 2004.
  15. Pascalization or high pressure processing (HPP)
  16. Pulsed electric field electroporation
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