The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It

Unseasonably hot days feel different lately. They don’t just make me feel warm; they make me worried, too. I get to thinking about whether the sweltering is a bellwether of our future. Climate scientists tell us we can’t extrapolate from anecdotal experience like my weather worries, but we now have the data to confirm that spikes in temperature worldwide are indicating an irrefutable fact: the age of climate chaos has begun.

Being aware of the scale of the climate crisis can make us simultaneously want to do something and feel overwhelmed that we can’t possibly reverse this disaster. Thankfully, there’s a lot we can do—from big picture tough-stuff like taking a stand as citizens for forward-looking environmental policies to the most simple act of all: making climate-friendly choices when it comes to the food on our plate.

For the food system—from seed to plate to landfill—is responsible for as much as one-third of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. The livestock sector alone is responsible for nearly one-fifth of the world’s total emissions–that’s more than every gas-guzzling SUV, jet plane, or tanker on the planet combined.

What can we do to support a climate-friendly diet? Here are a few ideas to inspire you. You might already have been making these choices without realizing you were helping the planet.

  1. Choose Real Food: Supermarket shelves are lined with products full of trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, and multi-syllabic additives. Each of these elements takes enormous energy to create. Choosing real food—fresh, whole foods with minimal packaging—is choosing energy-efficient food that’s good for your body and the planet.
    Check out Eat Well Guide’s resources to find options near you.
  2. Don’t Panic, Go Organic: Organic farms are not only good for the birds and the bees, they’re good for the climate, too. By building healthy soil and eliminating the reliance on petroleum-based chemicals, organic farms emit as much as half the carbon dioxide as chemical farms. Because of that healthy soil, organic farms tend to be more resilient, too, meaning they’re better able to withstand the coming weather extremes of climate change.
    Learn more at The Organic Center and the Rodale Institute.
  3. Enjoy Meatless Mondays… or Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays: Industrial livestock production is a major source of emissions of greenhouse gases, especially methane and nitrous oxide. Unfortunately, most of the meat and dairy in our supermarkets has been raised in these environmentally destructive production facilities. So try cutting back on meat and dairy in your diet or reach for the sustainably raised stuff, by seeking out local producers through your farmers market or community-supported agriculture programs (CSA).
    Get more ideas for Meatless Mondays from the wonderful Mollie Katzen.
    Find out more about farmers markets and CSAs there.
  4. Live La Vida Loca(l): Decrease your food’s emissions by choosing sustainably raised fare from your locally stocked supermarket or nearest farmers market. Help keep those local farmers on the land and thriving by becoming a shareholder of a community farm near you through community-supported agriculture.
    Learn more at Sustainable Table.
  5. Skip the Straw: With more and more of us eating on the run, food packaging has become a bigger and bigger problem, filling our landfills and adding to the overall climate toll of our food system. So try to choose less packaged products, travel with reusable mugs, and turn to the tap instead of bottled water.
    To join the “Take Back the Tap” campaign, connect with Food and Water Watch.
Published on: May 24, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Anna Lappe

Anna Lappé is a national bestselling author, widely respected for her work on sustainability and food systems. Her most recent book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About it, has been called “impeccable, informative and inspiring” by Booklist.

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