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Climate Dispatches: Your food and our climate

Jackson Realo and Michael Burley
Climate Dispatches

The purpose of this ongoing series of “Climate Dispatches” is to share with our neighbors how climate change affects our community and how we can all make a meaningful difference.

We all eat food every day. What you choose to put in your body is the most impactful decision you can make as an individual on our climate.

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, a scientific research nonprofit, “Livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land use, occupies 30% of the planet’s land surface and is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.” Our individual choices affect the path of the agricultural industry, which has a powerful impact on our environment and climate.

We want to touch on some of these topics and how to stay positive about our food choices on a day-to-day basis.

If you can’t bear to eliminate meat and other animal products from your diet, do your best not to waste food.

As our global population swells to 8 billion, our ability to feed the planet reliably depends on how we use land to grow food. The resources required to produce plants are significantly less than that of animals. The David Suzuki Foundation states, “It takes about 5-7 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of beef. Each of those takes energy and water to produce, process, and transport.” This being said, not all meat is equal. In terms of resources used per kilogram of meat produced, beef is by far the worst. More generally, any red meat is more resource intensive and contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than poultry or fish.

It’s easy to feel hopeless, and therefore unmotivated to change our own habits, especially our diets, in the face of cynicism and fear about our climate crisis. As human beings, we are all drawn to our own conditionings, comforts, and habits. What we want to encourage is framing your perspective in a way that encourages positive change, as an alternative to the cultural shaming surrounding lifestyle habits that happens all too frequently.

Nowadays, it is easier to find delicious vegetarian and vegan options at restaurants, but committing to these diets is still intimidating. The truth is, meat consumption is a big part of a lot of people’s cultural lifestyle. Fortunately, you can alter your diet and benefit the environment without eliminating meat altogether. In our case, neither of us have been able to maintain a strictly vegetarian diet, but we know we aren’t alone in wanting to reduce our impact, instead of defeatedly lapsing back into carnivory. With the help of some friends, we’ve come up with ideas that have helped us to find a healthy balance between our values and the convenience factor.

To start, ensure most of your food products are organic and locally sourced, whenever possible. Organic farms use less energy while growing food, and store carbon in the soil. In non-organic farms, synthetic fertilizers produce nitrous oxide, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. If you can buy from a local organic farm, that cuts down on greenhouse gases used in transportation. A side bonus is that the produce typically tastes better too!

Going further, you can try meatless Mondays. If that’s too easy, expand your meatless days to the entire working week, and reserve your meat consuming days for the weekend. Another option that we like to call the “flexitarian” cooks exclusively vegetarian or vegan, but eats meat when going out to restaurants. We find this option appealing, because it doesn’t cause any friction if you go out for a meal with family or friends who choose a restaurant that is not veggie friendly, nor if someone cooks you a meal with meat in it. Another one of our favorites is the “freegan.” Freegans are mostly vegans, except for when they have access to food for free. Obviously, this path is easier or harder depending on your occupation and access to free food, but it leverages your purchasing power to influence the food industry, while allowing wiggle room in your lifestyle. These are just some suggestions, but we encourage you to be creative and explore different options!

If you can’t bear to eliminate meat and other animal products from your diet, do your best not to waste food. Globally, we waste almost half of all of our food! If you can make deliberate and careful choices when you shop to avoid purchasing too much, you can have a truly positive environmental impact.

The bottom line is that veganism is probably the most environmentally friendly diet you can choose, but it’s simply not realistic that every person will adopt a strict vegan diet. There are plenty of alternative strategies that reduce your impact, and we hope you enjoy experimenting with them, perhaps finding one that works for you.

Jackson Realo and Michael Burley are South Lake Tahoe residents, avid skiers, and blossoming climate activists.


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