We received our first challenge last Monday night as Climate Pilots: Food. We also received quite an education. I had no idea that food accounted for over a quarter of a household’s greenhouse emissions. I also had no idea that eating climate smarter was more than eating less beef – and that my kids know much more about the issues than I do.
While hosting at my house our Climate Coaches from Sweden, Swedish Embassy representatives, and the Dean of Students from the Congressional Schools of Virginia, I asked my daughter what we can do to eat in ways that reduce greenhouse gases. She said simply, “no strawberries in winter.” I asked her what she meant by this. She explained logically, “if you eat strawberries in winter, they come to us from South America. Getting them here creates more gas.” (Well, wow. I need to have her do the shopping.)
What are the top 5 rules of eating climate smart we’ve learned this week? For us the rules can only be those that don’t break the bank and don’t require more time from us.
- Follow the growing season – eat local foods. Avoid food produced outside our climate zone. Those foods must be transported long distances to reach us. The transportation of food causes extraordinary emissions; I’ll find the statistic and get back to you on how much. Anyway, no strawberries in winter.
- Buy fresh foods, avoiding packaged foods. Each step of processing and packaging uses more energy and creates more gases, e.g., all the chemicals and material that goes into making a can and a label, then transporting those to the facility that puts the food into it.
- Buy organic when possible. Organic means no pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, no added growth hormones for animals, etc. All those extra chemicals require creation, processing, packaging and transporting to the farms, then tractors pouring out more emissions applying them to their fields.
- Eat less beef. My kids knew this one – “Mom, cows fart… a lot. It causes gases bad for the planet.” Beef also produces emissions through the processing and transportation of feed for cows.
- Eat foods lower on the food chain. All livestock fed with grains, e.g., cows, pigs and chickens, are high on the food chain. More processing steps and energy are required to grow the grains for feed, process the feed, transport the feed to the market, then to the cows, etc. The higher the food on the food chain, the more energy used to create that food.
So how to integrate these rules into our lives? In my first morning as a Climate Pilot, my kitchen seemed to contain alien foods – Foods I suddenly knew nothing about. “Coffee. Where does my coffee come from? Is coffee even made in America?” What about the bagels, cream cheese, milk, cream for my coffee, frozen French toast, maple syrup, and on and on. When I looked into the fridge for dinner, I found lovely fresh lettuce and tomatoes. Yet, the salad dressing contained olive oil from overseas and was produced, packaged and transported from California.
Wow – we have a lot to learn. We’ll need to do our homework on this project. But, I’m encouraged that this is only our first week and our goal is to reduce our emissions by one-third, not 100%.
For now, the rule of the day: keep it simple. We’ll focus on the five tips above and get into better habits. Small improvements count. If each family could follow the five rules above and reduce emissions by 33%, it would make a world of difference.
By: Climate Pilot Kathy Harman-Stokes