This post was written by Kate Whitbeck, Harmons director of sustainability
We all know that what we choose to eat is important for health reasons. But did you know that the food you buy is also a large contributor to your carbon footprint? In fact, in Utah, it makes up about 25 percent of your household’s carbon footprint. Overall, our food choices contribute to about 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. It seems hard to imagine but when you think about the energy and inputs needed to grow, harvest, transport, package, and cook your food you begin to understand how it all adds up.
Growing and Harvesting
- Large, usually diesel-powered equipment is used to prepare soil, plant crops, and harvest, all of which results in CO2 emissions.
- The use of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers can have a negative impact on soil, pollinators, wildlife, and water quality when these chemicals drain into nearby streams and waterways.
- In order to make it to your table, food is transported from every corner of the earth by trucks, ships, and trains which results in considerable CO2 emissions.
- Much of this food needs to be kept cold en route which means additional energy and emissions over the days and weeks it takes to get from the farm to your table.
Processing and Packaging
- The food you buy in the store has usually been cleaned and processed in some way. This may involve washing, slicing, cooking, or preserving which, again results in CO2 emissions.
- Packaging is another step that adds to the carbon footprint. The emissions related to packaging depends on what it is made of—paper, plastic, foil (metal), or some combination of these and other materials all have differing levels of CO2 emissions.
Consumption and Waste
- Preparing food at home can also use energy when you are washing, blending, boiling, baking, grilling, canning, or freezing. Allowing food or leftovers to spoil means a trip to the landfill along with the packaging.
Plants to the rescue!
Contributing to greenhouse gas emissions seems unavoidable when it comes to eating food. However, we can be selective about what we eat to shrink our food footprint. Eating a plant-based diet is a great way to keep your carbon footprint low. In fact, in their 2019 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that a shift toward plant-based diets would help to mitigate harm and to increase the ability to adapt to climate change. This shift will be especially important as the human population increases by a projected 2.3 billion by the middle of the century.
There are a number of reasons why a plant-based diet is lighter on the planet. Most of these relate to the impact it has on greenhouse gas emissions, and land and water use when compared to animal-based products.
Choosing a smaller footprint
As you can see, the simple choices we make with each meal have local and global consequences. Not everyone is ready to make the leap to a plant-based diet. In fact, I am not yet ready to give up bacon and the occasional lamb chop. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with going plant-based for a meal a week, a meal a day, or more. Here are a couple of ways to shrink your food’s carbon footprint.,
Embrace Meatless Mondays
Meatless Mondays is a global campaign started in 2003 aimed at lowering our overall meat consumption for our health and the environment. The movement originated during World War I to conserve meat and other commodities for US soldiers and their allies overseas.
The Environmental Working Group found that if everyone in the US ate no meat or cheese just one day per week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles, or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
Eat Seasonally (Locally)
Eating in season is a great way to enjoy the freshest fruits and vegetables your region offers. Not only are these healthy choices packed with vitamins and nutrients, but they also help the environment due to their smaller transportation footprint. Eating seasonally can also be less expensive, since a crop is more readily available at the peak of its supply. Harmons does a great job letting you know which products are local. Just look for the labels or ask our associates.
Choose Responsible Producers
More and more farmers and ranchers are making sustainable choices that are reducing the impact of raising plants and animals for human consumption. Planting trees on farmland, improving soil and waste management practices, regenerative agriculture, and reducing food waste are all solutions which can boost land productivity and reduce emissions. Look for products that are certified organic or humanely raised.
We Are Here to Help
If you are considering a plant-based diet, there are many resources online and at your local library that can help you make the shift. Ask a Harmons dietitian about easy recipes and how to get the protein and nutrients you need through plants. Check out the plant-based recipes Harmons chefs have developed for healthy, tasty options. Look for the Vegan, Organic and Dietitian’s Choice labels to guide your decisions.
Kate Whitbeck is Harmons’ new director of sustainability. She is a profound believer in the powers of the plant-based diet as a solution to climate change. Unfortunately, her bacon habit continues to thwart her ability to embrace plants for every meal.