Fresh fruits and vegetables

After three flat years, carbon dioxide emissions rose again in 2017, showing that the earth’s struggles with climate change will only continue. While this news discouraged those who believed we might have finally hit peak levels, there’s plenty to be hopeful about. Now is the time for individuals to do what they can to reduce their impact, through actions big and small. In the week leading up to Earth Day, Earth911 tackles five different areas in which you can make a difference. First up, food consumption.

Why Food Consumption Matters

This may come as a surprise, but food is among your household’s largest sources of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. While energy and transportation are larger, the food consumption of the average American household emits 8.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year. The majority of these emissions (83 percent) occur during the production of food, while food transportation accounts for approximately 11 percent.

Grains, fruits and vegetables are the food groups with the lowest carbon footprint. While meat, has the largest carbon footprint, accounting for nearly 50 percent of all greenhouse gases from food consumption. The digestive process in animals, whereby energy from the plants they eat is transformed into animal-based energy, is slow and ultimately leads to the production of manure. During the decomposition process, manure releases methane and nitrous oxide, two major greenhouse gases.

Beef, in particular, has one of the largest carbon footprints of all meat, while poultry is among the lowest. Next to meat, dairy products have the second-largest carbon footprint among the food groups, followed by seafood and eggs.

What You Can Do

First, you can cut back on your meat consumption. A vegetarian diet is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint when it comes to food consumption. If you’re not quite ready to adopt a completely vegetarian diet, eating one or two vegetarian meals each week can help. When you do eat meat, consider poultry, which produces far fewer greenhouse gases than beef or pork.

Second, you can buy locally produced food. Given that most of the CO2e comes from food production rather than food transport, it may seem that buying local food doesn’t have a significant impact. However, if you consumed only food that’s locally grown for an entire year, the impact would be quite substantial. This impact is even greater if the food is grown organically. Organic foods typically require 30 to 50 percent less energy to produce.

Third, you can grow your own food. A backyard garden may not provide your family with all the foods they need, but it can reduce your carbon footprint. If you’re new to gardening, these organic gardening books can help you get started.

The Future of Food Consumption

Indoor farming is one of the top innovations to watch for in the coming years. The idea is rather simple. Grow vertical gardens indoors where the temperature, pests, watering and light can all be controlled. These indoor farms can be located within major cities, which drastically cuts the transportation costs and provides local customers with fresher produce.

By growing indoors, farmers can produce crops all year long in a continuous cycle. While indoor farming currently works best with leafy greens, researchers are investigating how to apply this method to other crops as well. Over the past decade or two, a number of companies have tried and failed at getting this started. With recent advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, along with substantial trial and error, one startup, Plenty, thinks it may have finally cracked the code.

By Brian Brassaw

Brian formerly managed the Earth911 Recycling Search and shared green living tips and tricks on Earth911’s Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter accounts. Brian also shares DIY projects on Little Pilots Lounge.