In this day and age, it seems like you can get any type of food from anywhere at anytime. Want some hamburger for your cookout over the weekend? You’ll probably have at least five different options in the meat section of the store closest to your home. Live in Ohio and want apple in March? It’s likely you can get one at your local grocery – but that apple might be coming to you from New Zealand. Have a craving for seafood but live in a land-locked area? You can probably order some on Amazon. The options can seem limitless, right?
But not all of the options available to us are created equal, especially when it comes to the energy it takes to produce them and get them onto the local shop shelves. Which brings us to our topic today: how to lower the carbon footprint when it comes to the food that we eat. So many factors come into play when we select our food – from finances to availability to tradition – that taking the environment into consideration can feel like just one more challenge to add to the mix. This is why it’s important (just like when making any other lifestyle change) to start with where you are. So, here are a few ideas to get you started – because at the end of the day, we all have to make the decisions that feel right and are sustainable for our unique life situations.
1. Focus on produce.
Plant-based diets tend to use up less fossil fuel that those that rely heavily on animal products. Try doing Meatless Monday now and then, explore some new vegetables or fruits, or perhaps even try going vegetarian for a week or two.
Even though we can often get any type of food at any time, it often comes at a cost to the environment – it takes an awful lot of fuel to get an apple from New Zealand to Ohio. On the other hand, if we focus more on eating seasonally, we can get more of our food from close to home – it supports the local economy AND takes fewer resources to ship. Win-win, right?
3. Buy in bulk
This one can save you money, too! So often we buy out of convenience – think individually packaged items or things that are pre-cut and then wrapped in extra plastic. But when we purchase large amounts of things, cut them up and portion them out ourselves, we are saving a lot of waste from going in the bin. [hint: you can even do this with produce – for example: strawberries on sale if you buy a huge flat of them? Get ‘em and then put them on trays, stick them in the freezer. Once frozen, portion into freezer bags to enjoy later in the year.] Co – ops and natural foods stores also tend to have “bulk bins” where you can get anything from flour to dry beans to nuts in the portions you need – and you can use your own containers.
4. Learn the lingo
There are a lot of labels out there on food – from organic to natural to grass fed to wild caught to farmed to free range…some ‘certified’ and some not. How do you know what is best when it comes to the earth? Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown of some labels to look for: (and here’s a big list)
“USDA organic” — must pass strict regulations when it comes to pesticides and fertilizers. Keep in mind that the label “natural” doesn’t require adhering to any regulations.
“Grass fed” — a product, such as milk or beef must come from a cow that was raised primarily on grass, rather than corn. (which in turn takes a lot less energy and is better for the cow!)
“Free-Range” – you often see this one on eggs – and it means the chickens have access to at least a small space to run around.
“Pastured” – though not regulated, tends to mean the birds have more access to outdoor space. Better still – get eggs from the farmer’s market or a neighbor!
“Wild-Caught” – this label is in regards to fish – these days there are plenty of environmental issues with the earth’s water, especially the oceans. Wild caught fish is just as described, as opposed “ farmed” fish, which means the fish are raised in captivity. The jury’s still out on which is a better option (there are environmental impacts to consider with each), so it’s wise to do your own research.
5. Grow your own or share/trade with neighbors
In a culture that tends to focus on consumerism, one of the most powerful things we can do to lower our carbon footprint is make our own stuff from what we already have, and share resources (from food to garden tools to transportation to the store!) with our neighbors.
Now tell us, what might you try doing to lower your carbon footprint?