The 3 Best Ways to Make Your Diet Greener
Living sustainably not only requires us to reevaluate our energy production, transportation system, industrial output, and residential energy efficiency–it also requires changing our eating habits. The food and agriculture industry is one of the 5 major contributing sectors to greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale and we need to take a hard look at how we produce, distribute, and consume our food. If you’re interested in making your diet more sustainable, consider these three substantial ways to reduce the environmental impact of keeping yourself fed:
1. Eat less meat. If you only modify one thing about your diet, it should be to eat less meat. No, you don’t have to go completely vegetarian or vegan–even decreasing your meat consumption moderately radically reduces your carbon footprint. If every American simply substituted a vegetarian option for one chicken meal a week, it would have the same environmental impact as taking 500,000 cars off of the roads.
That’s because the environmental cost of meat production is unbelievably high. The amount of land, water, food, and energy required is staggering. 30% of the planet’s land mass is dedicated to raising animals for food, 70% of our domestic grain production is used to feed them, and nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from raising livestock.
That’s unsurprising when you consider that it takes ten times as much energy from greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels to produce a single calorie of meat protein compared to one calorie of plant protein. So you can see the comparative sustainability of consuming plants instead of animals.
2. Eat local. Perhaps the second best thing you can do is to seek out local foods. Whether from your farmer’s market, a local community supported agriculture operation, or right in your backyard, buying local reduces the environmental cost of food by shortening the distance it travels.
The EU and the US are the world’s biggest importers of food–and we are outstripping the competition at a stunning rate in that category. Between the layers of packaging, the refrigeration, and the combustion of fossil fuels required to ship food long distance, transportation is quickly becoming one of the dirtier parts of the food industry.
Eating local also supports local farmers and merchants as well as the broader local economy by keeping money in the community, instead of sending it to massive multinational corporations.
3. Buy organic. Organic certified food has to meet strict regulations set by the US Department of Agriculture–including crop rotation, sustainable soil and manure management, and avoidance of synthetic fertilizers.
Among the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, they’re primarily attributable to nitrous oxide emissions from soil management and manure and methane emissions from digestive fermentation in livestock and manure.
Organic regulations greatly mitigate the extent of these emissions by setting stringent guidelines for more sustainable practices. So when you see the “USDA Certified Organic” label, you can be confident that you’re buying a product that was sustainably produced.
[Photocredit: Care2; Neatorama; MiraLoma; USDA]