There are few things that we have control over in our lives. With the looming threat of climate change growing each day, this little fact feels even greater. One of the things we do have control over that makes a huge and pivotal impact within the climate change movement is: food. We all have a choice in the food we eat, where we buy from, and what we do with the scraps.
Food waste and the agricultural industry are major polluters and causes of greenhouse gases, contributing up to 51% GHG emissions per year. [X] Most of this number comes from raising of animals for food, transportation and shipping of produce from all over the world, the creation of processed foods, and food waste.
Another huge contributor to the climate crisis is transportation. Chiefly, air travel. We have increased access to foods from all over the world. When we walk into a supermarket, we find labels of foods sourced mainly from Mexico, Brazil, Asia, and California. There are international sections and foreign fruits.
Though it is nice to have these luxuries, the convenience of these foods is destroying the planet. Buying produce from places such as California and Mexico supports deforestation and soil degradation. Many of the farms that most food comes from hire in people of color and supply them with lowly wages that do not allow for a proper living. To support mass agriculture is to support the destruction of native lands, lush forests and homes of wildlife, as well as cheap labor that is the equivalent of modern day slavery. [X]
A recent example would be the burning down of the Amazon Rainforest for cattle farming, mono-cropping, and oil drilling. [X] All of which depletes soil of nutrients, forcing native tribes out of their homes, decreases biodiversity and puts species at risk of becoming endangered, as well as increases the amount of greenhouse gases being pumped into the air.
How do we, then, combat such a force of reckless capitalism?
Through this post, I intend to offer ways of cleaning up the way in which we consume food in order to reduce our impact on climate change. Ways such as:
Support Local and Seasonal Foods.
By supporting local farmers, we are encouraging the growth of our local economy as well as reducing our strain on the earth’s resources. We are choosing to purchase food that is grown close to home, limiting the amount of travel emissions. We are also putting money directly into the hands of the farmers, rather than supporting the exploitation of people forced into modern slavery.
By choosing foods that are in season, we are also opting to eat close to home and lower the demands on foods that would otherwise be shipped from other parts of the world where the environment can tolerate the growth of out-of-season produce. By choosing to eat seasonally, we are also supporting our bodies and helping them adapt to the changes of weather across the yer. This can build our immune systems and help prevent allergies.
By supporting the natural rhythm of nature and the plants that grow along with it, we are also supporting the ecosystem and soil health. Produce grown in season has more time to grow strong and healthy, increasing its capacity to ward of diseases and store carbon in the ground.
There are also a few guidelines we can follow to support soil health and the absorption of greenhouse gases back into the soil.
Choose Organic as much as Possible
Conventional farming methods lead to the pollution of waterways and a decrease in soil health. Waterway contaminants lead to toxic algae blooms in our fresh water sources. Here in the Midwest, an example would be the blooms in Lake Michigan caused by chemical runoff from waste as well as agricultural runoff. The agricultural runoff is also largely impacting the health and livelihood of the mississippi river, all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. This leads to increased health risks for those who rely on these fresh water sources, and a decrease in biodiversity of plants and animals living in these waters. A small impact in one place can lead to a devastating impact across the globe.
When it comes to soil health, pesticides kill the natural bacteria living within the soil that help to feed the plants and give it the nutrients. As the soil health decreases, sale of fertilizers increases. As farmers rely on fertilizers to encourage the health of their plants, we see food that is larger than life and nutrient-poor. To give plants fertilizer and pesticides for food is like telling someone to live off of bleach and a multivitamin.
As the life of the soil decreases, it becomes dry and brittle. Especially in the cases of monocropping. If you live in Michigan or other parts of the midwest, you may know what it is like to drive for miles and see nothing but rows of corn. In nature, it is not natural to see only pine or oak trees in the forest. We see pine and oak, beech trees and blueberry bushes. Jewelweed, wild carrot, american ginseng, and nettle. These are the places that are thriving with life. A decrease in the diversity of plants, coupled with the killing off of natural bacteria, causes our soils to become dry and lifeless. It loses its capacity to hold water and we begin to see droughts like those of California. Places where it can rain for hours, yet none of it enters through the ground. Instead, it makes way for mudslides and streams painted brown with dirt.
Organic produce supports the health of the soil itself and allows plants to gain nutrients from the place nature intended. As soil health increases, so does the grounds ability to absorb water and prevent agricultural runoff.
To take it a step further, we can begin seeking out regenerative and biodynamic farms. Those which mimic the way nature grows and flourishes by implementing crop pairing, reforestation, and the reuse of food waste into compost to feed plants instead of chemical fertilizers. More on that here [X]
“Ethical” Animal Products
Another huge part of the GHG emissions aforementioned is cattle ranching. Raising cattle requires a lot of land leading to massive deforestation, and cattle themselves release large amounts of GHG. I personally am vegan, but I respect not everyone in the world wants to eat only plants. With this in mind, I offer these tips to reduce impact from this sector.
Don’t want to eat all plants? Eat predominantly plants. 80% of your diet would be plants (fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, grains, potatoes and other roots, leafy greens, nuts and seeds) while 20% of your diet would be animal products. Another option would be to focus on having at least 2 meals a day being vegan. Bonus points for several days a week being vegan.
By buying animal products from your local farmers, you are preventing massive deforestation across the globe that makes way for conventional animal agriculture.
I personally feel if people are going to eat meat, they should have to hunt for the animals themselves. This makes way for the opportunity to honor the animal and thank it for its sacrifice as our ancestors once did. It also supports the preservation of the wild and reforestation efforts to bring back biodiversity and homes for our wild animal friends. That being said, there is nothing wrong with supporting our local farmers who raise animals.
Purchase from Regenerative Farms
In conventional farming, cattle and other herd animals are given a patch of land where they continuously feed from until they get shipped off for slaughter. This leads to plants and grasses being overgrazed, causing soil to be exposed. Soil exposure leads to agricultural runoff and the drying of the ground. Areas with a lot of soil exposure are higher in temperature, as there is no plant cover keeping the ground cool. With the soil exposed and the heat turned up, carbon begins to make its way out of the ground and into the atmosphere, whereas with proper plant coverage it would have been reabsorbed by the plants and kept stored in the ground.
In regenerative agriculture, herd animals are rotated to different parts of the field, allowing crops to grow back, carbon to be stomped back into the soil, and dung becomes fertilizer to keep the ground healthy and plants nutrient-rich.
Pass on Red Meat
As mentioned before, a large part of deforestation is cattle ranching. If you feel you must eat meat, forego the red meats and opt for leaner white meat and fish. I must also mention, however, that if you are choosing fish then please be mindful of the type of fish you are choosing. Overfishing is a major problem leading to many fish becoming endangered and a large strain on the delicate ecosystem of our natural bodies of water. The fishing industry also leads to chemicals and heavy metals leaching into the waterways which are then absorbed by the fish and thus enter your own body (yes, even your wild caught Alaskan salmon, Patricia).
Free Range, Grass Fed, Organic
When buying from anywhere, including farmers, you will want to make sure you are purchasing meat, eggs, and dairy from animals that were grazed on grass free of pesticides and allowed free range to roam. Otherwise, what you are getting is product full of chemicals, hormones, and likely diseases. In conventional farming, animals are kept locked closely together, forced to stand in their own feces, pumped with antibiotics to counteract the sickness that naturally comes from such an environment. Put yourself in the place of that animal for a moment. How would you feel? I’d rather be the one out on the pasture soaking up the sunshine, personally.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into being a mindful carnivore. I assure you that if being vegan is not for you, then learning how to be an “ethical meat eater” is well worth your time, our own health, and the health of this planet.
As a recap, since I know that was a lot to take in:
- Eat predominantly plants. Preferably organic.
- Support regenerative and biodynamic agriculture as much as possible
- Always opt to buy from local farmers
- Hunt for your own food
- Eat less red meat (1 to 2 times a week MAX. Once a month is better)
- Buy Free Range, Grass Fed, Organic, Hormone-Free animal products.
Last thing I would like to go over is the need to cut out plastic from our shopping carts. All plastic that has ever been created is still on this planet. I cringe every time I see people leave a store with 10 plastic bags in their cart, all double bagged, with each vegetable in its own plastic bag.
These are the bags we see inside of the stomachs of marine animals as we scroll our facebook feed, or on the fish hooks of people in third world countries who rely on the waters to feed their families.
There is no excuse anymore for the senseless use of plastic. We must begin bringing our own bags to stores and farmers markets, and refuse the plastic. If you are the type of person who saves all of your plastic bags and you still have, bring them with you to the store to put your produce in if you absolutely feel you need plastic. Keep reusing them! If you need bags to replace the plastic at stores, there are many options online and even in stores for reusable produce bags, freezer bags, and shopping bags.
I hope this article has inspired you to be more mindful next time you go shopping, and choose the options that will benefit both your body and this planet. Thank you for reading and please share this post to help inspire others to live consciously and kindly for our planet.