Some food choices take a much heavier toll on the environment than others.
You probably don't think about your choice of food as an environmental statement or a way to address climate change, but it is. According to climate scientists, growing crops, raising livestock, processing, transporting and distributing food accounts for about one- quarter to one-third of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions. And some food choices take a much heavier toll on the environment than others.
Eating for the sake of the planet is catching on with a large and growing segment of our society and has inspired a new name: climatarianism. A climatarian diet is one that is both good for the planet, and good for your health. It focuses on the environmental impact of foods, preferring those that are locally grown or more sustainably produced, and eschewing foods like beef and lamb that have the highest (or worst) environmental impact.
If you must eat beef, the experts say, at least eat beef that is pasture raised (or grass fed) and comes from American farms and not from factory farms located halfway around the world. The environmental cost of transporting meat produced overseas to your local supermarket is staggering.
That's not to say that a climatarian diet is necessarily a vegetarian diet. Eating small amounts of local, sustainably produced meat will not spell disaster for the climate, but as my climatarian friend says, "Use meat as a condiment, not the main course."
Eating locally sourced, in-season fruits and vegetables also plays a huge role in determining the carbon footprint of the food on your plate. Fill your bowl with strawberries in June when they grow plentifully around here, instead of in the winter when they have to be transported from far away.
Enjoy peaches, tomatoes and peppers mostly in late summer and fall, not in March when they are ripening on a distant farm on the other side of the country. Our grandparents filled their freezers and pantry shelves with the plentiful seasonal foods that they then consumed all year long.
Another important recommendation is to eat primarily organic fruits and vegetables grown without the use of chemical pesticides. Pesticides are largely responsible for upsetting the natural biological balance that has existed for millennia, wreaking havoc on all living things and resulting in the need for ever-more and stronger pesticides as chemical engineers try, inevitably in vain, to outsmart nature.
Pesticides impact climate change through their manufacture, transportation and application. They emit the three most potent greenhouse gases during their production: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. And finally, fossil fuels, especially petroleum, are the typical feedstock of pesticides.
Despite these facts, scientists and marketing executives at the Monsanto company (now owned by Bayer) thought it would be a great idea to genetically engineer the food industry's staple crops, like soybeans and corn, to be resistant to their miracle pesticide RoundUp, which they claimed was relatively harmless to humans. For decades, RoundUp-resistant GMO soybeans and corn have been the backbone of the food industry, especially for the highly processed "foods" like Doritos and other similar snack foods that many kids live on, where pesticide residues can be quite high.
Well, it turned out the people at Monsanto didn't fully appreciate how nature works, or the implications of spraying our most important crops with pesticides. Now we know that RoundUp can cause cancer in humans, and new research shows it may also be responsible for an increase in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as contributing to the increased incidence of ADHD and autism.
But that's not all. Over time, weeds that were supposed to be killed by RoundUp have developed resistance, and the product is no longer very effective. The chemical industry has responded to this development in typical fashion: they are now spraying these crops with a much more toxic pesticide, a chemical known as 2,4-D, one of the chemicals used to make the infamous defoliant Agent Orange that caused cancer in both American troops and the Vietnamese population, as well as birth defects in their children. A tragedy of enormous proportions.
Obviously, this is a disaster not only for humans but also for the planet, as pesticide residues from all this spraying find their way into the environment and reverberate among all living things. Other pesticides used by the food industry have decimated beneficial insect populations, ironically putting many crops at risk as bees are crucial for pollination. Nevertheless, the chemical and food industry continues with their relentless efforts to control nature.
Well, you might ask, isn't our government doing something about this ? The answer, sadly, is no. Budgets have been cut, legislation has been thwarted, and the revolving door of Washington ensures that the folks who regulate our food business come from the food industry itself. Their reward for "good service" is often another lucrative private industry job that pays more than their government salary.
So, prospective climatarians, I implore you to take some steps to push back against the reckless actions and billion-dollar advertising budgets of the food industry and think for yourself. Do you really need to buy that multi-pack of hamburger meat from Argentina? Is it a good idea to order a Big Mac at lunchtime? Should you be feeding bags of GMO corn-based snack foods to your kids? Are there pesticide residues in the corn syrup that makes your soda sweet?
If these questions cause you to think about your diet, good! Join the growing number of people around the world who are using their food purchases to make a statement about climate change, their health and protection of the environment.