We’re offering up a few easy little things that everyone can do to combat climate change.
The global climate crisis making seemingly daily headlines can leave you feeling powerless. However, there are steps each one of us can take every day to make a difference. According to the World Health Organization, food production makes up 20 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and up to 66 percent of water usage. That means our everyday food choices have a dramatic impact on the environment. But by following these simple recommendations, you can help reduce your climate footprint.
1. Eat Less Meat
A 2016 systematic review shows that following a diet low in animal products has the biggest impact on the environment of any dietary change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and land use up to 70 to 80 percent, and water use up to 50 percent. But you don’t need to give up meat entirely. Beef production leaves the biggest carbon footprint, so gradually cutting back would be a great first step. Consider reducing beef consumption to once per week or a couple times per month, or maybe it becomes a food you eat when dining out or on special occasions. If plant-based eating is new to you, try for one meatless dinner per week to start. Try new recipes with nuts, beans, lentils, chickpeas and tofu until you have a collection of favourites to keep on rotation. Look for more sustainable animal-based protein from fish, poultry, eggs and cheese.
2. Eat More Plants
The foods that leave the least impact on the environment are vegetables, fruits and grains. The EAT-Lancet Commission, a group of scientists from 16 different countries, examined the link between diet, human health and environmental sustainability. Its recommendations include maintaining a healthy, sustainable diet that is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and unsaturated oils, features low to moderate amounts of seafood and poultry, and little or no red meat, processed meat, added sugar or refined grains. Following a sustainable eating pattern is win-win, meaning it’s not only good for the planet, but is also beneficial for our bodies and can help prevent chronic disease. In fact, people following plant-based diets have 12 per cent lower overall mortality risk than do omnivores.
3. Reduce Food Waste
According to a 2019 Ontario study, at the household level, Canada generates 12.6 million tonnes of organic waste per year— enough to feed every person living in Canada for almost 5 months! That means each household throws out an average of $936 worth of food each year, and that food waste ends up in landfills, which contribute 25 percent of our country’s methane gas emissions. So map out your meals for the week, be mindful when grocery shopping and buy only what you need. Make a plan for leftovers, repurposing them into something new or freezing them. Have a few go-to recipes to use up scraps in the fridge, like veggie soup or stir-fry (for inspiration, check out the University of Guelph’s Rock What You’ve Got: Recipes for Preventing Food Waste e-cookbook, free to download at guelphfamilyhealthstudy.com). Buy “ugly” produce—often those (perfectly good) fruits and vegetables with cosmetic blemishes are sold at a discounted rate. Try a grocery shopping app, like Flashfood or Foodhero, to buy discounted items coming up to their best-before date. Separate organic waste into the green bin for collection if available in your area, or build your own backyard composter.
4. Buy Local Food
Buying locally produced food reduces greenhouse gases from transporting food long distances. Buying local also means cutting down on ultra-processed foods, and encourages cooking at home with whole foods more often. Local food tastes better because it’s picked at its peak and is more nutritious because less transit time means fewer nutrients lost. It also puts money back into your community and helps farmers preserve land, water and biodiversity for future generations. So, shop at your local farmer’s markets, choose restaurants that actively support local producers and try a subscription to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to receive a weekly box of local food.
5. Reduce Kitchen Garbage
Most of our plastic ends up in landfills, oceans, waterways and the environment. The kitchen is one place where much of our trash is generated. Buy (and remember to bring!) reusable grocery bags and produce bags. Carry a reusable water bottle. Bring your own reusable coffee cup. Use beeswax wraps instead of plastic wrap. Try washable silicone bags rather than zip-top bags. Buy foods that last in bulk to cut back on packaging. Use washable dishcloths over disposable sponges. In Canada, we’re guilty of recycling just 9% of plastic. Review the recycling protocol in your area and follow it. Small steps we take individually, collectively add up to a healthier planet.