This post was written by ScIU Social Media Intern Natalie Westcott, an undergraduate in IU’s Media School.
It’s no surprise that our environment is entering a state of climate emergency. Global temperatures are rising, carbon emissions are rising, and sea levels are rising while arctic ice is melting. Climate scientists all over the world study these changes in our environment and urge people to make changes in their diet in an effort to fight these devastating effects. Famous primatologist Jane Goodall once said, “you cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Are you making a difference?
The food you put into your body not only affects your own health, but also the health of our planet. The world’s food system accounts for about twenty-five percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This includes “the raising and harvesting of all plants, animals, and animal products we eat”. Meat and dairy products alone account for over fourteen percent of global greenhouse gas emissions each year. To put it into perspective, that’s equivalent to the yearly emissions from all the cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships combined.
Lamb, beef, and cheese have the largest climate footprint, respectively. Dairy emits more greenhouse gases than poultry and farmed fish. Plant-based foods have a much lower impact than meat, and plant emissions only happen after the crops leave the farm, post-production. This includes the processing, transportation, cooking, and waste disposal of the crop. Whereas most emissions from meat, dairy, and fish occur during production from feed production and manure.
If you want to help save our environment and fight against climate change, making small dietary changes can make an impact. Consuming less animal products like meat and dairy, and instead eating more plant-based foods like grains and vegetables, will help fight against the effects of global warming. Decreasing the demand for animal products will reduce the number of animals being raised for consumption and in turn reduce the emissions produced by this process.
You can also make an impact by making small changes in where you get your food, and how you dispose of it. Buying local food has a variety of environmental benefits. First, it significantly reduces your own carbon footprint by limiting food miles. Imported everyday foods can take thousands of miles to be shipped to its final destination, using large amounts of fossil fuels and creating air pollution. By shopping locally, you reduce the transportation needed to get the food, which then decreases the associated fossil fuels, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. With a little bit of research, you can find places near you that sell local food and support local farmers. Farmer’s markets  and local grocers are some of the most popular places to purchase locally grown foods. Here in Bloomington, we have Bloomingfoods – a local co-op market that sustainably supports the local growing of crops in Southern Indiana. However, many people face obstacles surrounding sustainable food choices. Buying from farmer’s markets and local groceries often takes time and money that many people don’t have access to. Another sustainable option would be to grow your own produce! Although gardening requires time and maintenance, this is another significantly cheaper sustainable option. Here are some tips on planting your own crops.
How you choose to dispose of your food also has great environmental impacts. It can be easy just to toss your leftovers in the trash, but these scraps are extremely valuable. Landfills in the U.S. receive 167 million tons of garbage annually. Twenty-one percent of this garbage is food scraps alone, and over fifty percent of municipal garbage set out at the curb is compostable. If you are a homeowner, or if your municipal district offers food waste pick-up, composting is an easy way to make use of your leftovers. Composting food waste improves soil and protects the climate. Compost improves biological, chemical, and physical characteristics of the soil, which overall increases soil fertility. Food thrown away in garbage ends up in landfills. These scraps generate methane which is a dangerous greenhouse gas. When these scraps are composted, they actually sequester carbon and reduce global warming. Think twice before you throw away your food scraps and learn how to compost at home to make use of these valuable resources.
There are some structural issues that make being more sustainable more challenging to practice on an individual level. For example, we are missing infrastructure to facilitate growth and fair distribution of local food and composting. The current system in place is set up to prioritize large-scale food manufacturing and distribution over more small-scale local grocers. If these structural issues are impacting your ability to make these sustainable changes, there are many other ways to fight against the climate crisis. Read our other blog post to learn more about how you can help the environment.
Composting at Home
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
In Season: Grow Your Own Produce
Top Benefits of Growing Your Own Food
Food production is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions
Climate and environmental impacts
Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered
Edited by Clara Boothby and Benjamin Greulich
A Note from the Social Media Chair: The Bloomington City Farmer’s Market has failed to address white supremacy for over a year, and they continue to fail now. For those of you who are local and would like an alternative options to staying green try the People’s Market, nearby farm stands, or contact your favorite vendors directly.