This very timely essay and guide was submitted by nutritionists, Kelly Wilson and Paula Martin from Taste the Local Difference (TLD). Please read on and watch for the links to many useful resources.
What we choose to eat has huge implications on the planet’s ability to sustain us. Globally, food production accounts for approximately 33% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is, collectively, we have the power to mitigate some of the effects of climate change by choosing sustainable dietary patterns.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines sustainable diets as “those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.” (1)
To improve your dietary sustainability and reduce your carbon footprint, consider the following:
Eat Less Meat. The majority of the meat we eat in the US is produced on factory farms which contribute significantly to CO2 emissions and water pollution. Globally, livestock for meat and dairy production accounts for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions; more than every single car, train, and plane on the planet (2).
- Health permitting, go meatless 1-2 days a week. The Meatless Monday campaign is a great resource.
- Build meals around vegetables and legumes (lentils, beans, etc.) instead of meat
When you choose animal protein: 1. Choose less red meat and more fowl (chicken, turkey, duck), eggs, rabbit, pork and fish; 2. Choose fish approved by Seafood Watch; 3. Talk to your farmer about their grazing practices. Choose animals raised on holistic, rotational pasture systems. Properly managed grazing systems can improve carbon sequestration.
- Advocate for food policies that discouraged concentrated animal production.
Reduce Food Waste. Globally, food waste is the top greenhouse gas emitter behind the United States and China (3). In the US, we waste 40% of the food we produce.
Eat Locally, Seasonally. Most fresh produce eaten in the Midwest travels nearly 2,000 miles before it is eaten. Trucking accounts for 41% of the transportation related greenhouse gas emission in the US (4). The Leopold Center (Iowa) concluded that increasing Iowa’s consumption of regionally grown fresh produce by only 10% would save more than 300,000 gallons of transportation fuel per year (5). Additionally, local food purchasing improves farm viability and the well-being of small farmers. In conventional production models, farmers only receive $0.16 per dollar spent. When purchases are made directly from a farmer, they keep the whole dollar.
- Eat seasonally.
- When a locally or regionally produced food option exists, choose it.
- Demand that retailers stock more locally and regionally produced food.
- Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Program or shop at your local farmers’ market.
- Need to find local food? Check out this resource.
- Advocate for programs that subsidize and incentivize local food purchasing: Double Up Food Bucks, 10 Cents a Meal, Farm to School
Support Farming Practices that Preserve Soil Health. Soil mismanagement is a key contributor to US greenhouse gas emissions. Cover cropping, composting, crop rotation, reduced tillage, and lack of synthetic inputs (chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides) all build soil health, reduce erosion, contribute to healthier plants and lead to improve carbon sequestration.
- Talk to the farmers you purchase from about their growing practices. Purchase your food from farmers with a strong commitment to building soil health.
- Advocate for policies in the Farm Bill or other legislation that encourage soil conservation and building.
- Healthy Land, Healthy Food & Healthy Eaters: Dietitians Cultivating Sustainable Food Systems, Angie Tagtow, MS, RD. LD and Alison Harmon PhD, RD, LN (2009)
About the Authors:
Kelly Wilson is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and SE Michigan Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. She also operates a sustainable vegetable farm (Simple Gifts Farm) in Oxford, MI.
Paula Martin is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Health Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. She is passionate about Culinary Nutrition and recently organized a Traverse City conference on the topic.