(Photo: Edgar Castrejon/Unsplash)
Eating is an essential human activity. The food sector includes food process from preparation, consumption to waste and agricultural production of crops and livestock. Crop and livestock contributes about 1/8 of anthropogenic emissions.
Industrialized agriculture is responsible for 15% of global carbon emissions. It uses 24% of the freshwater, 28 million tonnes of fertilizers and pesticides that cause water pollution, and use a lot of lands.
According to the EAT-Lancet Commission report, a radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed. The world risks failing to meet the UN SDGs and the Paris Agreement if our action is not enough.
Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts that include doubling in our consumption of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and a greater than 50% reduction in global consumption of less healthy foods such as red meat and added sugars.
Here are things in the food sector that we can do as an individual and then together act on climate change. Now is the time to change the way we eat.
Limit and Reduce
1. Use less bottled water
Plastic water bottles take more than 1,000 years to biodegrade. More than 2 million tons of plastic bottles are already in landfills. Every year, it costs 1.5 million barrels of oil to manufacture water bottles. Drink less bottled water or even better, don’t drink from bottled water altogether. Bring your reusable water bottle everywhere.
2. Eat less meat
Eat less meat like beef and sheep. Raising sheep and cattle creates a huge amount of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Cows emit 300 liters of methane per day. If cattle have their nation, they would be the third-largest emitter of global greenhouse emissions.
Slowly limit your meat consumption by a few meals per week. You can start with Meatless Mondays. And then gradually reduce it to only once or twice a week, and so on. The best way is to stop eating meat altogether. But if going meat-free is hard for you, limiting and reducing it is the best way also.
Reducing consumption of or even cutting out red meat and dairy and then swapping it to chicken and fish can seriously reduce your carbon footprint, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University.
3. Consume less dairy
According to WWF, dairy production has a considerable effect on climate change. It’s due to the greenhouse gases emissions it produced such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. And it’s estimated that there are 270 million dairy cows on earth.
Global population growth and increased demand for dairy also increase its use on natural resources like soil and freshwater. The best way is to stop consuming dairy altogether. But if going dairy-free is hard for you, limiting and reducing it is the best way also.
4. Reduce food waste
Globally, about one-third of all of our produced food for consumption goes to waste. According to the EPA, there are 38 million tons of food waste a year in the U.S in 2017. And it estimated that about 94% of the food we throw away ends up in combustion facilities or landfills.
8% of global greenhouse gas emissions accounted from food waste. And you know what? If food waste was a country, it would be the third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the USA.
Some things you can do to reduce your food waste are: only order or buy food that you need and you can eat, freeze leftovers, have a shopping list and a meal plan and stick to it, share meals with your neighbors.
By reducing your food waste and manage food sustainably, it saves you money, supports your community by providing for those who don’t have enough to eat, save resources and energy, and reduces the methane emissions from landfills so that it lowers your carbon footprint.
Recycle, Replace and Alternatives
5. Eat a plant-based diet
According to a 2016 study, 70% of business-as-usual emissions could be reduced through the adoption of a vegan diet, and 63% for a vegetarian diet. Producing 1 calorie of vegetables requires a lot fewer land and energy, compared to 1 calorie of meat.
Yes, bringing dietary change is hard cause eating is strictly personal and in many places, cultural. But for those who want to change, plant-based options must be easily available. Plant-based or plant-rich diets are healthier, leading to lower rates of chronic disease, and could help reduce emissions.
6. Compost your food waste
Approximately 20 to 30% of our thrown out food can be composted. When food accumulates in landfills, it would produce methane as not enough oxygen could reach all the food waste that in turn let bacteria decompose it through anaerobic digestion.
Home composting can have an enormous positive impact on the reduction of accumulated food waste in landfills. Transforming your food waste into nutrient-rich compost for the soil can boost your home garden.
7. Make your alternative milk
Like oats or almond milk.
8. Use biodegradable, reusable alternatives to cling film
Use biodegradable, reusable alternatives to cling films, like beeswax wraps or cloth.
9. Grow your fruit and vegetables
Buying locally grown food from your local farmer’s market is great. And even greater, growing your food. Plant your plants and trees in your garden, backyard or wherever is possible. Read books and how to’s before you start.
10. Cook your food
Take-out typically comes with a heavy side of a plastic or paper packaging that will become waste.
11. Put a lid when cooking
Put a lid on pot and saucepans to make them heat faster.
12. Use clean cookstoves
3 billion people around the world cook over open fires or on rudimentary stoves. 40% of cooking fuels used by humanity are wood, charcoal, coal, crop residues, and animal dung. As these fuels burn, they release plumes of smoke to the air. And traditional cooking practices produce 2 to 5% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2014, clean cookstoves just comprised 1.3% of the addressable market. If the adoption of clean cookstoves grows to 16% by 2050, it would reduces 15.8 gigatons of CO2.
Use stoves like advanced biomass stoves that some of it could cut emissions by 95%. It forces smoke and gases from incomplete combustion back to the stove’s flame. But they are more expensive and require more advanced fuels.
13. Buy organic, local, and seasonal food
Buying locally grown foods means that you travel less distance, which saves you time and transportation costs, which in turn reduces your carbon emissions. You also supporting your local farmers.
If there’s no farmer’s market available in your area, become a farmer’s market regular or try a service that brings the farmers market to you like CSA. Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) connects you to seasonal food that sold directly to you from nearby farmers. But as long as emitting transport is included, there will be carbon emissions produced.
14. Avoid ingredients containing palm oil
Scan ingredients labels for palm oil. Palm oil production is one of the major contributors to deforestation.
15. Choose to eat in the restaurant rather than getting takeaway
Dining in restaurants tends to use less packaging waste rather than getting takeaway. Or you can bring your food container for takeaway.
Storage and Containers
16. Pack a lunch for school or work
Bringing food with your reusable food container could save you the unnecessary use of plastic or paper packaging from buying foods.
17. Store your food properly in airtight containers
Store your food in airtight containers, preferably glass or metal containers.
18. Never put hot food into the fridge
Putting warm or hot food into the fridge will make the fridge work harder to try to cool your food. Allow your food to cool down first before you put it in the fridge.
Persuade and Urge
19. Persuade a meat-eater to try a plant-based diet
After you tried it with yourself, now is the time to educate and influence others about what you know and what you’ve already felt by being in a plant-based diet. Individual action on climate change is great, but not nearly enough.
20. Urge fast-food chains or restaurants to use recyclable packaging
Use your voice and urge food companies to start using more recyclable and biodegradable packaging in their products.
Australian Psychological Society. “101 Things You Can Do To Help Address Climate Change.” →
Climate Care. “50 Ideas for Shrinking Your Carbon Footprint.” →
Parley. “101 Ways to Create a Climate of Change.” →
Simpson, K. 2019. “50 Things You Can Do About Climate Change.” The Green Hub. May 21. →
Sisson, P., Barber, M., Walker, A. 2019. “101 Ways to Fight Climate Change.” Curbed. October 9. →