This weekend I attended a supper that featured locally and sustainably grown food, part of a larger “Growing Local” conference. The food was delicious, the entertainment good, and the conversations interesting. It turns out there is a strong connection between the food that we eat and the production of climate-changing pollution. How so, you ask? Here are a few statistics that demonstrate how agriculture emits carbon dioxide through transportation, fertilizer production, and other means (from veg.ca):
Deforestation (partly to clear land for agriculture) is responsible for 13% of climate change through the release of stored carbon dioxide. Methane causes 17.3% of climate change due to livestock digestion, animal manure, rice paddies, dams, fossil fuel extraction, and landfills. Nitrous Oxide (N2O) accounts for 5.4% mostly due to fertilizers.
Livestock generate more greenhouse gas emissions, in CO2 equivalent, than transportation and it’s also a major source of land and water degradation.
The food that North Americans eat now takes far more energy to get our table that the energy we get from eating it. Brian Halweil, author of Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market points out:
A head of lettuce grown in the Salinas Valley of California and shipped nearly 3,000 miles to Washington, D.C., requires about 36 times as much fossil fuel energy in transport as it provides in food energy when it arrives.
The winners in this kind of unsustainable, energy-intensive food system aren’t local farmers or consumers, it turns out. Halweil goes on to say:
The big winners are agribusiness monopolies that ship, trade, and process food. Agricultural policies, including the new Farm Bill, tend to favor factory farms, giant supermarkets, and long-distance trade, and cheap, subsidized fossil fuels encourage long-distance shipping. The big losers are the world’s poor.
And, a new study from the University of Arizona shows, that in the United States at least, 40% of the food produced and shipped in that energy-intensive way ends up being thrown out without even being eaten. So it turns out we, the consumer, can save money and make a difference in the production of greenhouse gases just buy making sure we eat our leftovers. Buying less junk food and more food that requires little packaging, like fresh fruits and vegetables, also decreases our carbon footprint – not to mention being better for our overall health and our waistlines!
Fighting global warming can start right in our own kitchens, by changing what we put on our forks everyday. Today is Monday, so in the spirit of making a difference, consider joining the “Meatless Monday” movement. For more information as well as recipes, click here. For some of our family’s favourite vegetarian dishes, click here.
For more information on this topic, check out these links:
Local Food Plus (Canada)
Toronto Vegetarian Association: Climate Change: The Inconvenient Truth About What We Eat
The 100 Mile Diet: Why Eat Local
Organic Consumers Association:Americans Are Tossing $100 Billion of Food A Year
WorldWatch Institute: Globetrotting Food Will Travel Further Than Ever This Thanksgiving
FAO Institute: Livestock a Major Threat to the Environment