How Your Food Choices Can Help Fight Climate Change

By: Julia Westbrook, Associate Nutrition Editor  |  May/June, 2018  |  How Your Food Choices Can Help Climate Change

As scary as the global-warming stats may sound, there are simple things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and help lower greenhouse-gas emissions—protecting the planet and our future food supply.

Pictured Recipe: Bean Salad with Charred Lemons

As our planet inches toward warmer temperatures, we're also left facing a rapidly changing food landscape. Research suggests that by 2030, 90 percent of our major crops will be impacted by climate change. For instance, corn will see a 12 percent decrease in growth, and rice will plummet 23 percent.

Related: 10 Foods That Could Disappear If Temperatures Keep Rising

The good news: You can help stop climate change with your food choices. Here's how to reduce your carbon footprint.

1. Eat Beans Instead of Beef

Salsa-Black Bean Burgers

Pictured Recipe: Salsa-Black Bean Burgers

You don't need to go whole-hog vegetarian. (Yep, we just made that joke.) But making beans your go-to protein even occasionally can greatly reduce greenhouse gases. According to research published in the journal Climate Change, if every American swapped in beans for conventionally raised meat once a week for a year, it would keep 75.3 million metric tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The impact: Equivalent to taking 16 million cars off the road annually.

Related: Genius Vegetarian Recipes That Swap Vegetables for Meat

2. Compost Food Waste

Chucking perfectly good food doesn't just waste money, it also increases your carbon footprint. About 18 percent of all U.S. methane emissions—a powerful greenhouse gas—comes from food waste rotting in landfills. Composting is a much better option. If Americans composted all of their food waste (250 pounds per person annually!), it would save 24.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gas from being emitted.

The impact: Equivalent to taking 5.2 million cars off the road annually.

Related: Can You Compost That? Your Essential Guide to Backyard Composting

3. BYO Water Bottle


The average American guzzles 39 gallons of the store-bought stuff each year (equal to 312 16-ounce bottles per person!). The resources used to make just one plastic water bottle—from beginning to delivery to disposal—release 0.27 kg of CO2. If everyone gave up just half the number of bottles we currently plow through, it would save 9,504,000 metric tons of CO2 a year, according to University of Michigan researchers.

The impact: Equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road annually.

Must-Read: What Is Plastic Doing to Your Health and the Environment?

4. Eat Organic

Spinach Salad with Morels, Bacon & Blue Cheese

Pictured Recipe: Spinach Salad with Morels, Bacon & Blue Cheese

A Spanish study found that organically grown crops like wheat and veggies have lower carbon footprints than their conventional counterparts—largely because they require fewer resources, such as fertilizers. And soil from organic farms sequesters more carbon from the air. If all Americans ate 2½ cups of organic veggies a day instead of conventional ones, we'd reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3.3 million metric tons a year.

The impact: Equivalent to taking 710,000 cars off the road annually.

Must Read: The Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods You Should Buy Organic

5. Garden Your Yard

Garden Your Yard

It takes 846 million gallons of gas to mow the 40.5 million acres of lawn in the U.S. While grass can help sequester carbon, mowing and fertilization dramatically reduce its capacity to do this. A better idea: convert some of your yard to garden. Simply converting 10 percent of yards to mulched garden saves 752,000 metric tons of CO2, according to Australian researchers.

The impact: Equivalent to taking 161,000 cars off the road annually.

Get Started: Food Gardening for Beginners

Watch: Does Organic Really Matter?

More Ways We Can Make a Difference:

Saving Our Food Supply in the Face of Climate Change
8 Simple Ways to Use Less Plastic
30-Day Meatless Challenge
How Our Diet Contributes to Water Pollution