Inside Scoop: Make smart food choices to reduce your impact on the environment with these actionable steps.
It’s no secret that the foods we consume have a huge impact on the environment around us. Even the packaging that our food comes in can affect the ecology of the planet. Thankfully, there are ways that you can reduce your impact through smart food choices.
Making informed choices when it comes to the foods you eat can be done in a number of ways. For instance, you can buy fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers to reduce your carbon footprint, support local growers, and more. By buying from local growers who focus on organic production methods, you can also help encourage others to adopt these practices.
However, it goes deeper than this. In fact, some of the more recent trends in food production, packaging, and shopping can also help to reduce your impact on the environment. For instance, meal kits create fewer greenhouse gas emissions than many other options because they eliminate delivery vehicle-related emissions. They also help to reduce food waste.
While the amount of food packaging used in meal kits is up for debate many are turning to more sustainable and recyclable materials. And, some recent studies such as the one published in the scientific journal, Resources, Conservation and Recycling argue that pound-for-pound meal delivery kits have a smaller carbon footprint than ones bought and prepared at home. You can read more on the studies on NPR and Futurity.
But shopping and meal kits are only one part of the puzzle. Below, we’ll delve deeper into making smarter food choices to help you make a positive change.
Your Food’s Carbon Footprint
Everything you consume contributes to your personal carbon footprint. Whether we’re talking about kale or wagyu beef, corn or hotdogs, it all comes at a price for the environment. For instance, according to an Oxford University study, food production is actually responsible for 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Being able to make smart decisions about the food you eat, and even the packaging of that food, can allow you to begin minimizing your effect on the world around you.
The Most Damaging Food Types
While all food production affects the environment, not all food types affect it in the same way or to the same degree. For instance, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a scientific report indicating that meat production tends to be the most damaging, with CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) being among the most dangerous in terms of greenhouse gas emission and damage to land. The report highlights that beef and lamb are the most damaging, accounting for 50% of food production greenhouse gas emissions, but chicken and pork are also among the problem foods fuelling environmental damage.
Meat is the most dangerous type of food for the environment, at least with modern production and growth methods. This includes a wide range of factors that are invisible to many people, and include:
- Bodily waste and gases from food animals
- Land destruction for food production
- Lack of carbon sequestering within damaged land
- Monocrop production to create feed for livestock
Not Just Food Production…
Yes, food production has the most impact on the environment and releases the most greenhouse gases, but up to 8% of greenhouse gases associated with the food industry actually comes from your kitchen. Well, from your waste bin. Food waste is the problem here. Packaging also plays a role – plastic bags and containers, for instance. There is also a significant amount of greenhouse gases released during the transportation process. The food must be transported from the production facility (farm, CAFO, etc.) to a processing plant, then to a distribution center. From there, it must be delivered to the grocery store. Yet more emissions are created when you drive to the store to pick up your groceries, and then drive home again.
What Can You Do?
So, how does someone who cares about the environment make smart food choices? Is it all about avoiding meat completely? No, there is no need to go vegan, or even vegetarian, although there are significant benefits associated with following a plant-based diet. If going vegetarian is not for you, consider a semi-vegetarian diet, or maybe think about going flexitarian, both of which allow meat in the diet while focusing on adding plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
Considering Meat Alternatives?
As meat production tends to have the highest environmental impact many people are turning to meat alternatives such as the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat that promise all the flavor of meat without the environment-damaging aspects of raising livestock, plus the health benefits of following a plant-based diet. But, just how healthy and sustainable are those alternatives?
Yes, they are vegan and vegetarian friendly and are becoming widely available, but many of those plant-based alternatives are highly processed, and should be limited in the diet just like other processed and deli meats. Other things to consider:
- Contain refined oils.
- Depending on the protein source (pea or soy), many health benefits are lost in processing.
- Often unclear ingredient listings, such as “natural flavors”.
- Often contain GMOs, particularly soy-based products,
- Many contain gluten.
Making Smarter Food Choices
Really, it all comes down to being informed and taking effective steps to mitigate your personal carbon footprint. Some actionable steps include the following:
- Buy mostly fruits and vegetables and opt for local when possible.
- Limit your trips to the grocery store. Meal planning definitely helps here.
- Choose foods packaged in biodegradable materials.
- Use reusable bags at the grocery store.
- Buy from environmentally-conscious food producers – look for terms such as sustainably farmed, sustainably raised.
- Instead of take out, try meal kits and have them delivered to your door.
- Avoid foods packaged in Styrofoam and avoid using the material in other areas of your life (picnics, camping, etc.).
- Limit single-use plastics (food packaging).
- Waste less food at home. Here are some great tips on how to do that.
- Use stainless steel straws to limit plastic waste, or go straw-less.
- Buy juices, milk, and other beverages that come in glass containers – most will also give a discount for returning the containers to the store.
- Use beeswax wrap to store your foods in the refrigerator instead of plastic wrap as it is natural and biodegradable.
- Stop buying plastic bottles of water – use a permanent water bottle and carry it with you.
- Start composting to reduce food waste and improve garden soil health.
- Avoid using disposable plates and cups.
Ultimately, making smart decisions with your money is one of the simplest ways you can create positive environmental change. There are plenty of options available to help you reduce your own carbon footprint, from following a meat-light diet to buying from food producers dedicated to reducing their impact on the planet to using meal kits to cutting out transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.