How is Food Climate Action?
By Zoe Beynon-MacKinnon
When we think about the climate crisis, it’s hard to move away from images of smokestacks, traffic jams and melting ice caps. However, emissions of fossil fuels and their impact on the planet are much more complex than this. Take our food system for example - at every stage of production and consumption, food has the power to do both great good and great harm to the planet. Below are three key ways your food contributes to the climate crisis, as well as ways to take action.
Animal agriculture requires huge amounts of land and water inputs, both directly through space for the animals to live, and indirectly through the production and movement of feed. In conventional agriculture, the waste from animals causes serious harm to the local waterways, air and soil. For those that follow an omnivore diet, there are only 15.6g of protein per Kg CO₂ equivalent produced. This is in contrast to a vegan diet that provides 41.2g of protein per Kg CO₂ emissions. Furthermore, the production of conventional feed requires large inputs of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, as well as considerable transportation - both of which contribute to climate change.
Fertilizer, Herbicides and Pesticides. Good soil, sunshine and some water - these are the foundation for growing nutrient-dense food. Since the Green Revolution, there has been continual growth in the use of petroleum-based inputs to grow few cash crops in ways that don’t align with ecological optimization. The creation of these fertilizers is energy intense (contributing to climate change), while the runoff of these products into waterways and wild spaces also pollutes the immediate environment. Synthetic fertilizers have a much greater impact on CO₂ emissions than transportation. For this reason, prioritizing organic produce can have a huge impact on greenhouse emissions.
Look around your kitchen, how much of your food was grown locally? The demand for fresh, out of season produce creates the need for complex trading networks, bringing food north to colder regions. Choosing foods that are grown locally and in season (not using electric greenhouses) can help support local farmers, and cut down on shipment of fresh produce - a process which requires power for both the movement of goods and its refrigeration to stay fresh.
Above are three key ways your food contributes to the climate crisis. However, there are easy steps you can take to promote a more sustainable food system.
Eat more veggies!
For some, it may feel right to fully transition to a vegan diet. However, even being conscious of your consumption of animal products and building the majority of your meals around plants can be a great place to start. Not sure what to prepare, or want to learn more about veg based eating? A simple google search of your favourite dish and the word vegan will return a variety of recipes.
Waste Less food - especially animal products.
The inefficient use of food is a really easy way to burn through fossil fuels., without any return in energy. By being more conscious in food buying and realistic meal prep you can save the emissions (and your wallet). In cases where you do have too much food, try to find someone to share it with, chop and freeze veggies before they go bad, and compost any remaining scraps.
This step can be more of a commitment, as it requires the time, space and resources to start and maintain a garden. However, if you’re able, maintaining a garden can be a great way to both increase your consumption of fresh fruits and veggies, as well as gain the mental and physical benefits of living near green spaces. Don’t have space for your own garden? Stay tuned to the Climate Guides page for updates on the food cohort, as we work to make urban gardening more accessible to everyone. Other great options include trying out a CSA (community supported agriculture) or your local farmers market.
How we fuel our bodies can have significant impacts on both the health of the planet and ourselves. By making some simple changes, you can send the message that you want to prioritize a healthier, happier tomorrow for yourself and your community.
Zoe Beynon-MacKinnon is a proud plant mama and cycling enthusiast. She is a graduate of Dalhousie University with a BA in Sustainability, Political Science and Economics and has just completed her Master’s in Political Science at UBC. Her research focuses on food and agriculture policy – specifically the impacts that both have on environmental and human health. Combined with her experience organizing community gardens and citizen activism, Zoe hopes to expand the discourse regarding food justice, environmental stewardship and human wellbeing.