Why foodies must also be environmentalists

Foodies and environmentalists don’t always get along. Environmentalists make compromises daily for sustainability. Foodies are known for being single-minded and ruthless in their search for the perfect meal.

But I argue: If you love food, you must appreciate and respect the environment in which it was grown. And that means you have to make green choices or risk losing the foods you love in the long run.

But it’s just food, you say, and everybody’s gotta eat, right? How much harm can it possibly do? As Bijal Trivedi points out in New Scientist, the answer is: quite a lot.

It may surprise you to learn that our diets account for up to twice as many greenhouse emissions as driving. One recent study suggested that the average US household’s annual carbon food-print is 8.1 tonnes of “equivalent CO2 emissions” or CO2eq (a measure that incorporates any other greenhouse gases produced alongside the CO2). That’s almost twice the 4.4 tonnes of CO2eq emitted by driving a 25-mile-per-US gallon vehicle 11,800 miles – a typical year’s mileage in the US.

Foodies are already finding seasonal shortages of some of their favorite foods, such as the grossly overfished bluefin tuna, and peaches, which spoil easily in summer storms.

The future is much more dire, especially for seafood lovers, who are facing collapse of hundreds of fish stocks through overfishing – not to mention the ravages of a changing climate.

Nicola Ranger of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment told The Guardian that the impacts of climate change on pests, diseases and pollinators such as bees were largely unknown.

“This means that to limit the long-run impacts of climate change, food production must
become not only more resilient to climate but also more sustainable and low-carbon itself.”

Some foods are getting more expensive. A Stanford study found the cost of maize and wheat had gone up about 20 per cent already, due to climate change, and what we are growing is significantly less nutritious.

EPSON DSC Picture
Corn is among the most grown crops in the US, and most of it goes to feed livestock. Picture: Lars Plougmann, CC.

It sounds like a foodie’s nightmare but we can be the change-makers. Foodies set the trends for eating and have the energy, knowledge and – dare I say it? – resources to seek out and support foods that are grown sustainably.

Here are TIME Magazine’s tips for greener eating:

  • Bring your own bags to the store
  • Look for foods in as little packaging as possible
  • Don’t buy bottled water
  • Support ethical companies
  • Buy local meat and produce
  • Buy produce in season
  • Eat more produce than anything else
  • Seek out organic foods
  • Eat raw foods
  • Preserve foods for year-round eating
  • Grow your own
  • Eat less meat, and buy pasture-raised meat
  • Take note of the environmental impact of your seafood choices
  • Buy hormone-free dairy products
  • Ask for tap water in restaurants
cormorant ingrid taylar
A cormorant fishes more sustainably than we do. Picture by Ingrid Taylar, CC.

There Goes the Neighborhood

The Natural Resources Defense Council runs a handy website where you can find out what’s in season in your state right now. For example, it tells me fennel, halibut, scallions and bok choy are fresh and in season right now – which sounds like delicious grilled fish to me!

Waste Not, Want Not

The US Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that food produced but not eaten is responsible for adding 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually. What’s more, it costs the world about $750 billion a year.

That’s not small potatoes – so it might be time to rethink your attitude to leftovers; and get creative with the half an onion languishing at the bottom of your crisper.

There is an app for that

Don’t despair – it shouldn’t be difficult for you to make changes to your diet.

From finding what’s in season to sustainable seafood and vegetable recipes, there are apps to help you eat more sustainably. Here are Treehugger’s top five.

Featured image by Jessica May H, creative commons.