The patrons of Whole Foods and farmer’s markets argue that locally grown food really does taste better. Whether or not pesticides add (or subtract) flavor to the tomatoes in your salad is still up for debate. However, eating locally grown produce, organic foods, and less meat can do more than give you a skinny frame and some added health benefits. Rather, eating habits can have a profound effect on the carbon footprint you leave behind. Eating to save the environment can be easy, but the long-term impact of your daily diet on Mother Earth is anything but miniscule.
Did you know that the average meal an American consumes has travelled at least 1,500 miles? Furthermore, about 17 % of American petroleum demands are related to the transportation and production of food. These statistics do not even include your trip to the supermarket and back! According SustainableTable.org, Growing 10 % more produce for local consumption in Iowa would result in a savings ranging from 280,000 to 360,000 gallons of fuel. Imagine the amount of fuel that could be conserved if we did this on a larger scale. By purchasing produce from farmers markets and grocery stores that hold food grown in your local community, you can greatly decrease your carbon footprint. Not only are you decreasing the amount of fuel needed to get your food to your plate, but you are decreasing the carbon emitted during the transportation of your food. An added bonus: You may get to talk to the farmer growing your vegetables and learn when your fruits and vegetables are at peak quality.
Certifying a food item as organic usually comes with greater regulations and screening processes than buying it locally. In accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act, organic foods are free from artificial food additives, chemical pesticides, or genetically modified ingredients. Although filling your shopping basket with solely organic foods can be expensive, switching over to a few organic items can help decrease enormous amounts of waste associated with conventional farms. One of the worst long term impacts of conventional farming comes from the use of chemical based fertilizers and herbicides. These fertilizers damage the structure of the soil and the organisms that help it thrive. Soil degradation leaves less soil for future generations to grow their own produce, which can be a negative impact our grandchildren are inept to cope with. Furthermore, the wastes released into the environment from the packaging of these chemicals often upset the balance of local ecosystems and undermine species diversity.
Less Meat on Your Plate
According to multiple UN reports, the livestock industry is one of the greatest contributors to carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions. The amount of energy and resources needed to raise animals is unbelievable. Our insatiable appetites for meat (red meat in particular) help sustain these excessive emissions. The amount of grain, water, and pollution that comes from raising livestock is the biggest part of the problem. Preserving the meat and transporting it to our plates are added negatives. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that if every American ate one meal of chicken per week instead of red meat, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking half a million cars off the road. The number increases to 5 million if you have one entire meat-free meal.
You can take small steps to change the way your diet impacts the environment. By eating locally, replacing regular food items with organic ones, and decreasing your meat intake, your carbon intake can be drastically reduced.