Other than the fact that most of our food comes from farms, be they farms for animals, nuts, vegetables, fruits or grains, what do farming and food really have to do with climate change? How does what we eat affect our personal carbon footprint? How does excess food waste increase carbon emissions?
Project Drawdown, www.drawdown.org, estimates that roughly 24 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from food, agricultural practices and land use (FALU). In its list of 80 solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 12 of the top 20 solutions were related to FALU. On a worldwide basis, #3 in the list was reducing food waste, #4 was eating a plant rich diet, and #5 was related to stopping deforestation of our remaining large old-growth forests in British Columbia, the Amazon and the Congo.
These are complex issues that require action on the part of individuals, states, national and international entities. For example, stopping deforestation requires public policies to enforce existing anti-logging laws, eco-certification programs that inform consumers and affect purchasing decisions, and wealthy nations and corporations paying countries and communities to maintain their forests instead of cutting them down.
Addressing the issues of eating a plant rich diet and reducing food waste are two of the more accessible ways to address these problems on a personal level.
Addressing the issues of eating a plant rich diet is perhaps a bit more obvious for us to confront on a personal level. This action presents us with many more entry points into reducing our individual carbon footprint. For example, it is suggested that eating a vegan diet could significantly reduce emissions from this sector. It would also save money in health care costs and lost productivity from health issues related to chronic illness caused by our meat-centric western diet. In the U.S. it could also involve ending government subsidies, such as those benefiting the livestock industry, which would result in the prices of animal protein more accurately reflecting their true cost. Obviously, there is a continuum from eating a totally plant based diet to one that is animal protein rich with many intermediate steps which we can all take.
The issue of how to decrease food waste in our daily lives is one that is more easily confronted. It is estimated that a third of the food raised/grown or prepared does not make it from the farm or factory to the fork on your table. Wasted food amounts to about 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions. On an individual basis, doing simple things such as making a commitment to use up all your leftovers before they go bad, sharing food from your gardens so nothing is wasted, and buying perishable food in quantities that you can use up in a week are actions we can take.