It’s also larger than all the energy you use in your day-to-day life (heating hot water for your shower, heating your home, etc.) and all the travel you pursue. In fact, for the average person the food and beverages they consume are the single largest determining factor of their overall ecological footprint. (Source: Cardiff’s Ecological Footprint study: http://www.cardiff.gov.uk/content.a…
Global warming, ocean acidification and more
CO2 emissions, of course, are causing a sharp increase in the levels of measurable CO in the atmosphere. It’s currently more than 380ppm and rising at an unprecedented rate due to the burning of fossil fuels.
But does this really lead to global warming? Some people (even a few scientists) argue it doesn’t. The chemical composition of the atmosphere has no effect on the climate, they say. That position strikes me as quite odd, especially considering the undeniable fact that glaciers and Arctic ice sheets that have been since the industrial revolution are now melting away right before our very eyes (2008 was a devastating year for the melting of polar ice). See: http://www.canada.com/Technology/th…
Even for those who do not believe CO2 emissions cause global warming, there’s another big reason why CO2 emissions matter: Ocean acidification. When CO2 levels rise in the atmosphere, most of that CO2 gets absorbed by the planet’s oceans. Because CO2 is slightly acidic, this causes the oceans to become more acidic, too.
Why is that so bad? Because the ocean’s creatures can’t build coral reefs in acidic water. The acid decomposes their tiny shells. This is partly why we are already seeing disturbing episodes of “coral reef bleaching” around the world. Coral reefs are dying everywhere, and when they die, the entire marine ecosystem is devastated by the loss of life and biodiversity.
Here’s an important explanation of how this is happening and why rising global temperatures matter: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environme…
So even if you don’t believe CO2 emissions cause global warming, there’s no debate whatsoever that CO2 emissions cause ocean acidification. And that’s reason enough to watch your ecological footprint. Of course, in reality, CO2 emissions also do affect the climate, so there are actually two big reasons to reduce your carbon footprint.
Here are five ways to make that happen with your food and beverage consumption decisions…
1. Buy local food and drink
A big part of the carbon footprint of foods and beverages is found in the fossil fuels used to transport them to your local grocery store. Buying food that’s grown locally largely avoids that footprint, regardless of the type of food. Local dairy and meat products, for example, are “greener” than dairy and meat imported from somewhere else. But using plants as your food source (see #3, below) is the greenest of all.
2. Avoid wasteful packaging
A tremendous amount of energy goes into the creation of food and beverage packaging. Sadly, most of that energy is wasted because the food packaging is quickly discarded by consumers.
To avoid this waste, buy in bulk or purchase minimally-packaged products. Breakfast cereals are a classic case of extremely wasteful packaging with a high carbon footprint. Companies like Nature’s Path offer bulk packaging on some of their cereals, giving you the option of avoiding the wasteful boxes typically used for cereals.
3. Buy plants, not meats and animal products
This is the most important food purchasing strategy of all: Buy plants instead of animal products. This will drastically reduce your carbon footprint. Meats and animal products are extremely resource intensive, requiring enormous amounts of water, food and fossil fuels to produce. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that the widespread consumption of meat is not ecologically sustainable.
This doesn’t even consider the issues of animal factory waste runoff or the enormous amount of methane produced by cows (via cow farts). Methane is approximately twenty times worse at causing global warming than CO2, by the way.
This point isn’t about vegetarianism or veganism from a health point of view. That’s a different discussion. This is about reducing or eliminating meat consumption solely from an ecological perspective. And there’s no debate about this issue, either. Factory-farmed animal products are extremely wasteful of Earth’s resources. They have huge “overhead” that makes them a poor choice for eco-conscious individuals. It’s no exaggeration to say that avoiding the consumption of factory-farmed meat does more to reduce your carbon footprint than driving a Prius!
4. Buy minimally-processed foods
Highly-processed foods require a lot of energy and resources to produce. They’re also extremely wasteful in terms of nutrients. White processed sugar, for example, is missing as much as 98% of the original nutrients found in unprocessed cane juice. Taking those nutrients out required a tremendous amount of wasted energy, and that’s why white sugar has a much larger carbon footprint than evaporated cane juice.
The same is true of breads, cereals, canned soups and other processed foods. Anything that isn’t fresh requires energy for processing and cooking. Anything that’s pasteurized, for example, has a much larger carbon footprint than the same foods RAW. That’s because pasteurization requires the foods or beverages to be heated, burning up fossil fuel energy.
RAW living plants, in this way, are the most ecologically-sensitive foods you can buy, grow or consume. (They’re also the healthiest, but that’s a different article…)
5. Grow your own
Finally, the best way to reduce the carbon footprint of your food consumption is to grow your own food. That makes your food so local that it’s in your own back yard!
And you don’t have to grow ALL your own food to make a difference: You can start with basic sprouting right in your own kitchen. The very best kitchen countertop sprouter I’ve found is the EasyGreen Sprouter sold at the best price with free shipping by RawFoodWorld (http://www.therawfoodworld.com/prod…). With this affordable device and a few bucks worth of sprouting seeds, you can grow a considerable portion of your own diet right in your kitchen, anywhere in the world.
Pursuing a backyard garden goes even further, and if you live in the right climate, you can grow a portion of your food just a few steps away from your door. (This is what I’m doing in Ecuador right now, enjoying the amazing carbon footprint reductions of literally being walking distance from my own food supply.)
With some effort on your part, you can grow food in virtually any climate — even Northern Canada. Cold-tolerant blueberries and fruit trees can do remarkably well even in exceedingly cold areas of the planet. And if you’re living in a city with limited space, try following the concepts of “square foot gardening” outlined in the book by the same name: http://www.amazon.com/All-New-Squar…
What you EAT says it all
Your food is your No. 1 source of carbon emissions, and unless you are consciously eating local foods or participating in Community Supported Agriculture (http://www.localharvest.org/csa/) or growing your own garden, you’re not really green!
Disturbingly, this even applies to raw foodies who are often buying and consuming raw foods in an ecologically unsustainable way: If you’re living in New York but buying raw vegetables in the winter, all your vegetables have a huge eco-footprint due to the transportation costs involved. It’s nowhere near the carbon footprint of meat, of course, but it’s still not truly “green.”
There’s a legitimate argument — and I don’t support this, but I’m saying it’s a legitimate point of debate — that says hunting and eating deer or Elk in the winter months is far more “green” than importing raw vegetables from Mexico. I don’t support the killing of game animals, but there’s a lot of truth to this argument from a carbon footprint point of view. Hunting animals in your own back yard is “eating local” after all. (If you ever see a raw vegan in the woods with a hunting rifle, get it on video. It’s rarer than a Bigfoot sighting!)
In summary, the two takeaway words from all this are: Eat Local.
These are the two words missing from Michael Pollan’s bestselling book: In Defense of Food, where he says “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Notably, it should have stated, “Eat LOCAL food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
But Pollan isn’t alone in missing this point: Even many health-conscious people completely fail to recognize the importance of eating local (I certainly did for many years). Eating healthy and eating local are two distinct spheres. A lot of people eat healthy foods but fail to eat local foods. And let’s face it: The whole food infrastructure in America isn’t really set up to allow people to eat local anyway, is it? And with bills like HR 875 in the works — which could conceivably outlaw small, local organic farms — the U.S. government seems to be doing everything in its power to destroy local farms in favor of big, powerful corporate farms (which are extremely wasteful in their use of energy).
So if you’re going to eat local, you’ll have to do it yourself, almost as an act of defiance against the status quo. Society won’t make it easy for you to eat local — you’ll have to go out of your way to make this happen. In the end, though, you’ll be learning skills of self-reliance that will help you survive any disruption or collapse of the global food supply — an event that now seems inevitable due to the abuse of GM foods, monoculture farming, fossil water usage and the loss of honeybee pollinators.
Growing your own food, in many ways, is the single most courageous act you can pursue in modern society. It is a statement of great defiance against the corporate food giants, and a statement of self reliance. It also makes a huge statement about how “green” you really are.
Maybe this is why the pesticide lobby is trying to stop Obama’s organic garden at the White House: http://sustainablog.org/2009/04/11/pesticide-lobby-bugged-michelle-obamas-white-house-organic-garden/