If you would have told our ancestors one hundreds years ago that they could have any food at any time of the year, they would have thought you were crazy. And if you continued to tell them that some of it would come pre-cooked, packaged, and ready to eat, they may have chased you off with a stick. But that is exactly what we have today with our global food system: Strawberries in the winter, Mexican Avocados in New Jersey, and wheat from the USA sent over to Europe. This system is a shining accomplishment for economic progress. However, the carbon footprint that it leaves on our beautiful mother earth is nothing to be proud of.
With global crises like the greenhouse effect, deforestation, desertification, and growing landfills, it is no wonder environmental awareness is starting to get front page attention. We have been overrun with information about the carbon dioxide produced from gas engines and the effects that plastic has on our environment. But no one really talks about how much environmental harm comes from the actions we take in our own kitchens. Food is one of the top 3 contributors to the American household's carbon footprint at almost 20% of the responsibility. There are two main reasons for this: the way our food is produced, and the amount of food we waste. But don't fret; just as one less plastic water bottle a day can make a difference, so can these small changes in the kitchen.
Eat Less Beef and Lamb
A vegetarian’s carbon footprint, in terms of food, is on average half that of those who eat meat. The reason is that the farming of animals like cow, lamb and other livestock is responsible for up to 50% of the human race's greenhouse gas emissions. No, I'm not suggesting that you convert to vegetarianism to save the world, but I am suggesting you decrease your consumption of the meats that put a strain on it. Even one vegetarian meal per week can significantly lower your contribution to global warming. But if you just can't go meatless, opt for poultry or pork, as they have a much lower carbon footprint during production.
Eat More Beans and Legumes
If you try cutting down your intake of animal proteins and don't supplement properly, you may find yourself missing out on a major macronutrient: Protein. However, you don't need meat to get protein in your diet. Beans or legumes will provide 8g of protein. And because their nutrient profile contains carbohydrates from dietary fiber, they will keep you satiated longer. If you really want to help the environment, buy them dried. They have a long shelf life and require less packaging. This means decreased food and water waste, and less plastic heading to the landfill.
Remember There are Plenty of Fish in the Sea
Although fish such as salmon and tuna are well known favorites, the means by which they are caught or raised, and shipped are not very eco-friendly. Smaller forage fish have just as much taste and put less of a strain on our environment. Unfortunately, these fish, including sardines, herring, mackerel and anchovies, have never gotten much attention because they are smaller, and for a long time only served in briny, salt packed forms. However, when prepared correctly, they can make for a delicious meal with all of the great health benefits of larger, more common fish.
Cut Down on Waste
Last but not least, be more conscious of the food and food packaging you throw away. The amount of food waste in the United States equals the entire amount of food produced in sub-Saharan Africa. That means we throw away as much food as half of Africa produces. With starvation being a serious crisis, not just in Africa but all over the world, this statistic is something we need to fix. Make recipes that have appropriate portions, and if there are leftovers, consider sharing with friends or freezing them. Also, try eating out less. Food waste alone at restaurants can total almost 50,000,000 pounds per year. That does not even begin to count water and paper waste.
It sounds cliché, but we really do only have ONE EARTH to live on. By venturing a little out of our comfort zone and becoming more conscious of our decisions in the kitchen, we can make a real difference.