Everyday Food Choices to Reduce Climate Impact

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has long been an advocate of reducing the climate impact associated with the foods we eat.  Recently, it recognized leaders in the field of sustainable food through the Growing Green Awards, including initial winners:

Will Allen of Growing Power, Fedele Bauccio of Bon Appétit Management Company and James Harvie of Institute for a Sustainable Future, in the categories of Food Producer, Business Leader and Thought Leader, respectively.

While these visionary leaders carry some significant weight, there is much each of us can do in reducing the impact of our food choices.  The NRDC Food Facts: Eat Green brochure outlines several simple steps, which I summarize below. For more information, including specific recommendations, visit the NRDC site.

Choose Climate-Friendly Food

Not too surprising, beef tops the list as the least environmentally-friendly food (check out graphic in NRDC report).  When you consider the life-cycle analysis of the food we eat, including upstream energy required to produce the feed that animals eat, as well as downstream processing, it turns out that the higher something is on the food chain, the larger its footprint. 

Buy Organic and Other Sustainable Certifications

In addition to health benefits associated with synthetic fertilizer- and pesticide-free foods, organic agriculture is often better than conventional agriculture in reducing global warming pollution. Visit Consumer Reports for a list of label to look for.

Buy organic and other certified foods when you

Watch Your Waste

Possibly one of the more shocking facts, or at least one that really disappointed me, is that “an astonishing 27 percent of all food (by weight) produced for people in the United States is either thrown away or is used for a lower-value purpose, like animal feed.” Yet we have Monsanto parading around the globe claiming there isn’t enough food to feed the hungry, making Monsanto’s otherwise self-serving claim that much more difficult to refute.

Eat Locally

We’ve all probably heard that the average American meal travels 1500 food miles, but did you also know that that meal also contains ingredients from five countries? Local purchases of fresh produce, as well as lightly processed foods, e.g., cheese, bread, milk, can make a big impact throughout our conventional food system. 


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5 responses to “Everyday Food Choices to Reduce Climate Impact

  1. Thank you for reminding us that we can all do little things in the effort to be more responsible food consumers.

    Creating less waste, buying local, and buying organic and sustainable produce are simple and manageable, plus when I do these things, I feel as though I’m making a difference.

  2. Great post. I try to do all these things and I am trying very hard to limit meat and dairy (huge GHG contributors) as well as choosing sustainable fish.

  3. Great post. As for eating locally, though, I think it’s worthwhile to note that it’s not always the case that the local option makes the smallest impact in terms of energy use and co2 emissions.

    Eating locally and seasonally might be better advice?

    For instance, it seems like you can buy tomatoes from a local grower who uses heaters to extend her growing season. The inputs & resulting GHGs could end up being more for those local tomatoes than for tomatoes grown outdoors and shipped in from another warmer state.

    Then there’s the fact that folks who are uber-locavores and make multiple trips out to farms/farmers’ markets/etc. (in their cars) end up making more of an impact than a shopper who goes to just one market, even if that shopper buys Chilean Grapes and apples from another state.

    Obviously there are lots of issues at stake when choosing our food (doesn’t even take into account social justice, etc.) but kudos for getting people thinking!

    • Jess: Thanks for contributing to the dialog on how we can reduce the climate impact of our food choices. Great additional detail. Living in Vermont, with an already short growing season, getting people used to the food provided by 24x7x365 conventional supermarkets to convert to local and seasonal will be very difficult. Instead, what I am advocating for is that we pick a more seasonal diet and buy the most sustainable option available.

  4. Wow- that graph is powerful! Thanks for the link. I will be looking into their resources more closely and sharing this graph with other visual learners out there 🙂


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