3 Ways to Help Climate Change with Food Choices
Did you know that what you eat impacts climate change?
It might not seem like an obvious connection, with all the focus on solar panels, heat pumps, electric vehicles, and wind turbines. But the way we grow and consume food has a major impact on the planet.
The journal Nature Climate Change highlighted this with a recent study that states: “global food consumption alone could add nearly 1° C warming by 2100.”
Given that the ideal goal is to keep warming to 1.5° C, it’s clear that we need to address eating habits as part of our climate change efforts.
Of course, you all know that changing how you eat can be challenging, even with the best of intentions. But the good news is, you don’t have to make all-or-nothing changes. And perhaps knowing that what you’re doing is good for the planet will make those changes easier.
With that in mind, here are three ways you can help climate change with your food choices.
Be mindful of meat and dairy
Although you most often hear about carbon dioxide (CO2) as a problem for the environment, it’s not the only greenhouse gas that causes problems. Methane is another one, and it’s much more potent than CO2 – methane just doesn’t get as much attention because it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere for very long. But it’s still contributing significantly to warming.
And the way animals are raised in factory farms – especially cows, pigs, and chickens – generates a lot of methane.
Plus, we have to grow a lot of food for all the animals we raise, which is a significant cause of deforestation, including in the Amazon rainforest. That also impacts climate change.
All of this is why the report noted: “We found that the consumption of dairy and meat is responsible for more than half of the warming by the year 2030 and through to the year 2100.”
That makes reducing meat and dairy consumption a great place to start.
In case you’re worried, I’m not suggesting that you need to give up meat and dairy completely, though some people are making that choice. But as any of you who’ve tried diets know, trying to restrict what you eat can backfire since you may end up wanting that food even more.
Instead of quitting those foods altogether, start by noticing how much meat and dairy you eat. I know some people are used to having some kind of animal protein with every meal, though you may have it less often. Or you may have it with meals and have cheese, yogurt, or ice cream as a snack. Don’t judge what you’re eating, but just start paying attention to it.
If you find that you’re having meat and/or dairy several times a day, you could start to experiment by cutting it out of one meal or snack, once or twice a week. Make sure that you like whatever food you’re having instead. You could even try some of the many meat or dairy alternatives around, like Beyond Meat or oat milk.
Give it a try for a week or two and see how you feel. Do you miss the meat or dairy, or has it been okay?
If you do miss it, it may help to see if you can understand what, exactly, you’re missing. Is it the taste? Texture? Comforting recipes with good memories? If you can figure that out, you may be able to find other ways to address what you’re missing.
Even better, if you find you don’t miss reducing meat or dairy, try the same thing with another snack or meal. Again, you don’t have to get to zero, but limiting those foods can make a big difference.
If you’re looking for some kind of guidance, the report suggests:
One serving of pork or beef per week
One or two servings per day of poultry, eggs, and fish
Even if you don’t get down to these recommendations, any reduction helps.
Be picky about where your food comes from
It also helps to pay attention to where your meat and dairy come from.
Most of what you buy in a regular supermarket comes from factory farms. And in addition to producing methane, those farms have a lot of other problems:
Stress and other negative health impacts on the animals
Rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to the widespread use of antibiotics in factory farm animals (needed because of all the health problems they have)
Monocultures that negatively impact wildlife and reduce biodiversity
The good news is, not all animals are raised on factory farms, and you can be picky about where your meat and dairy come from.
Try to get animal products from animals that are raised organically, preferably where the animals have access to the outside and can have some freedom.
You could also look for farms that practice regenerative agriculture. This approach is designed to store carbon in the soil, reduce emissions, restore natural habitats, prevent deforestation, integrate livestock when possible, and produce enough food for everyone.
And finally, you can reduce or eliminate food going into the trash.
When food goes into a landfill, it generates methane, which we already know is bad. Additionally, food that gets tossed effectively wastes all the resources – fertilizer or food, water, processing, transportation, etc. – that went into the food.
One good way to reduce how much food you throw out is to be mindful of how much food you buy to begin with. If you find that you’re routinely throwing out food, cut back a bit on how much you purchase.
Also, don’t buy food you think you “should” eat (like kale) if you know you won’t really eat it.
You can also look into composting. Food that’s composted still has some waste from all the resources that went into producing the food, but composting is far better than the trash.
Your choices can make a difference
Food isn’t necessarily the first thing you think of when you consider how to help climate change, but it’s one of the best options. After all, you eat every day, multiple times a day, and how that food is grown or raised matters.
The biggest impacts are from meat and dairy, so reducing how much of those foods you eat is a big help. You can also choose to get meat or dairy from animals that were raised more sustainably. And whatever food you get, throw out as little of it as possible.
Making these changes may not be as splashy as an electric car, but they’ll make a significant contribution to climate change.