How Your Food Choices Can Help Fight 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—all from your kitchen.
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.
Our planet is undergoing a major environmental crisis and it can feel disheartening when some of the most powerful people in the world don't seem to care. While most of us don't work for the government or have the final say on the environmental impacts a major company makes, that doesn't mean we are powerless in our fight against climate change.
The good news: You can help stop climate change with your food choices. We've come up with five easy ways to fight climate change from the comfort of your own home. While some of them may seem daunting, we have some great tips on how to make them a realistic, seamless part of your daily life. Here's how to reduce your carbon footprint.
1. Eat Beans Instead of Beef—Even Just Once a Week
Pictured Recipe: Salsa-Black Bean Burgers
Gong full-on vegan or vegetarian may not be realistic for you and your family, but that doesn't mean participating in Meatless Monday isn't beneficial! Simply making this swap one day a week can make a huge difference on your personal environmental impact.
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.
Did you know that if cattle were their own nation, they would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases behind the U.S. and China? Research shows producing just one quarter-pound burger uses up enough energy to power an iPhone for six months and enough water to fill ten bathtubs. Imagine what would happen if we all cut out meat for just three meals a week!
If you begin to enjoy vegetarian or vegan meals but still want to keep meat in your diet, just cutting back on your consumption by half could reduce your diet's carbon footprint by a whopping 40 percent. Check out our Vegan Diet Center and Vegetarian Diet Center to find inspiration for delicious, satisfying meals.
The impact: Equivalent to taking 16 million cars off the road annually.
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.
While only 28 percent of Americans have actually composted before, a 2014 study found more than two-thirds of the population would participate if it were easier. Luckily, even if your community doesn't have a composting outlet, it's actually a lot easier than you'd think!
Simply start by keeping a compost bin in your kitchen (Amazon sells them for under $20). From there, you can follow our step-by-step Composting 101 guide that explains everything you need to know about composting at home. Once you get in the habit of it, you'll wonder why you didn't start earlier.
The impact: Equivalent to taking 5.2 million cars off the road annually.
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.
4. Eat Organic (and Seasonal) Food When Possible
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.
Additionally, supporting local farmers and businesses is important in your quest for organic, budget-friendly food that also fights our climate crisis. Eating locally grown food has more value than simply supporting the agriculture and business in your area; it can also have a major impact on climate change.
Consuming produce when it's readily available saves energy from production and transportation costs because it didn't have to be shipped from a faraway farm or country to taste fresh and delicious. Plus, there is something really satisfying about eating with the seasons—and it will save you money, too! In-season food is also more cost effective, partly because transportation costs are lower (for example: fall apples from Vermont are going to be much less expensive than spring apples from Chile.)
The impact: Equivalent to taking 710,000 cars off the road annually.
5. Garden Your Yard
Love to garden or have wanted to plant your own produce for years? Turns out, gardening can have a big impact on climate change!
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.
Growing your own fruits and veggies can be two-fold on the environmental benefits—it can provide you with hyper-local, organic produce as well as boost the fresh air quality and nutrient content of the soil for all your other plants. Cooking with garden-fresh veggies will not only give you a sense of accomplishment (and your dishes amazing flavor), it will also help you fight for a healthier, happier environment. Plus, it's a great way to get your kids outside and teach them more about healthy eating!
Just don't forget to save your food scraps, as they can not only be used to make delicious meals later, they nourish your garden and even help you grow new fruits, herbs and veggies. Some of the best home chefs keep bins in their freezer to toss used-up corn cobs, broccoli stems and onion skins for delicious stock, stir-fry or soup. Check out 11 tasty ways to use up your food scraps, here.
The impact: Equivalent to taking 161,000 cars off the road annually.
Get Started: Food Gardening for Beginners