The Low Carbon Diet

We’ve all heard about the benefits of eating like a “locavore.” Much of the locavore diet is based on supporting local farms, and secondarily on environmental impacts. The Low Carbon Diet looks at environmental impacts of food choices including food production, packaging, transport, disposal.

Audio Article

 

Ask three simple questions:

1. If you could reduce the negative impact of global greenhouse gases by making a few simple changes in your weekly menu – would you do it?

2. What if those choices also supported your local farmers and producers?

3. What if they also resulted in healthier eating for you and your family?

Introducing the Low Carbon Diet

1. What is the Low Carbon Diet and what are its goals?

2. Maybe you’re taking shorter showers and using better light bulbs already. Good! Feel like you’re doing enough?

The average American diet produces more than 15 pounds of CO2 per day, or 5,600 pounds of CO2 emissions per person per year. A 10-minute shower often cited as contributing 4 pounds of carbon per day (or 1,460 pounds of CO2 per year) represents only one-third the impact of daily food choices.

3. So the answer is to eat local – those locavores were right?

It’s more complex than that. Food waste, for example, is one of the most important parts of the food-climate-change puzzle. When sent to landfills, food waste breaks down, emitting methane gas, which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The US alone produces approximately 4.7 million tons of waste – over 245 million tons per year. Remember “Reduce” is the first R in the Recycling motto: “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.”

So a locavore who wastes food in an average American way, is still going to have a negative impact, rather than a positive one, overall.

Some bio-degradable products actually cause methane emissions if allowed into the standard waste stream (i.e., sent to landfill, not recycled). What is “best” is a question that has to be answered in the context of the local recycling options and consumers’ willingness to follow the program.

Tips and Tools:

1. Remember, if you bought it, you eat it.

2. Think seasonal, regional – no hothouses though, unless they use renewable energy.

3. Move away from beef and cheese. 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock. Ruminants are hi-carbon meat sources from the energy inputs in production of feed (very high), the length of time it takes to grow animals to maturity as compared to plants (therefore, that much more energy to feed them), and their weight (a factor in transport emissions).

4. Don’t buy fish, seafood, fruits that are airfreighted. These are high-carbon foods, sometimes 10x more emissions than shipped or frozen at sea, or locally grown.

5. If it’s packaged and processed, skip it. For health: of your budget, your body, your planet.

 

Still think you can’t make a difference through a Low Carbon Diet? Graze on these examples:

 

  • College dining facilities experimenting with eliminating trays found students wasted 25% to 30% less food when they weren’t carrying a tray. Dining halls saved a third- to a half-gallon of wash water per tray, on average. Georgia Tech’s no-tray policy saved 3,000 gallons of water a day, during a drought.
  • An average American meat-centered diet produces 3,000 more pounds of carbon dioxide each year than a calorie-equivalent vegan, or plant-based, diet, according to a 2** University of Chicago study. Opting for chicken instead of beef saves about 2,250 pounds.

 

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