In the wake of the new Climate Science Special Report (NCA4) [link: https://science2017.globalchange.gov/] we need to take a moment to consider how our diet impacts the environment. The special report states that there is “no convincing alternative explanation” to the effect humans have on increasing average temperature and extreme weather event related to the long-term warming trend. The report explicitly states that “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”.
With a growing population, estimated to top 9 billion by 2050, there is an increased need to address sustainable development as it relates to food, both how it is produced and how it is used, from farm to plate to waste. Food production itself is a major burden on our natural resources, with production being responsible for up to 30 percent of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of deforestation, and more than 70 percent of fresh water use. Moving from post-production but pre-consumption, processing and packaging along with transportation over long distances by planes, trains, trucks, and ships all consume more energy and increase air pollution. The choice of food you eat, on the consumer end, drives the decisions made at all points prior to consumption. The type, amount, and place you eat all impact the use of resources such as agricultural land, energy, and water.
What you may not know is that we as a society have already been called to action. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency, along with other private and public-sector partners, challenged the country to reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030. You may be asking, is this challenge realistic? Easier said than done, right? Well before you jump to conclusions consider these following calls to action:
Change the way we eat: as the consumer, we control the demand. Consider adopting a more sustainable diet- one with less demand for resource intensive food. Gradually shift your normal diet to one that has a lower environmental impact. Lucky for us, diets that are considered more sustainable are also higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods. It is double bang for your buck, a diet rich in foods that are in line with current dietary guidelines for healthy living and associated with reductions in environmental impact. Also, if you can, think about buying local. It is good for your local economy and means that your food doesn’t have to travel as far to reach you.
Waste not want not: if we want to meet the national goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent in 2030 we need to start now. Food waste reduction can take place at an individual- and population-level. Take on the challenge by reducing food waste in your own home- learn more about food labels, how to properly store (or re-store) vegetables, and properly planning for your next grocery trip. Not only you change what you do, work to make change at a larger level by challenging our politicians and community decision-makers to take action. Call on manufactures to provide food and menu labeling that will educate the consumer on what are the best choices. Ask your state and local government to implement or improve Standardized Donation Regulations and the federal government to expand Donation Tax Incentives for businesses that donate food. For more tips on how to call on your local farmers, manufacturers, restaurants & retailers to make a positive change, check out this report [Link: http://www.refed.com/downloads/ReFED_Report_2016.pdf?mc_cid=1c10ce6033&mc_eid=56f456c1e3]
Although the NCA4 report isn’t great news, it does provide a path forward. According to the report, models used to predict future climate change demonstrate that “land-use management and change combined with policy, demographic, energy technological innovations and change, and lifestyle changes all contribute to future climate”. It is now up to us to decide if the changes we make will be those necessary to improve our world, right now and for the future.
Associate Director of Wellness and Nutrition