How to reduce your food related carbon footprint
Unless you have been hiding under a large, relatively hard, naturally formed mineral, you may have heard of the carbon tax, greenhouse emissions and carbon footprints.
Carbon Footprint is a term that has been bandied about for the past few years. It refers to the total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person. These emissions can be emitted through transport, land clearance, manufactured goods, resources, roads, buildings and the production and consumption of food. Recent figures show Australia at number 3 on the list of largest emitting countries (per capita) of carbon in the world. The ultimate goal here is to reduce this footprint.
One of the easiest ways to do this is by looking at what you are putting in your mouth.
The term Food Miles comes into play here. This refers to the distance travelled by food products between production and consumption. I recently read an article produced by CERES Community Environment Park, Victoria (2008) on the growing issue of sustainability within our food systems. They estimated that the typical Victorian shopping basket of around 25 items, travelled 70,803km. This means that the total transport of our shopping baskets may have travelled the equivalent of almost twice the circumference of the globe before it gets to our plates! Fortunately, there are things we can do to reduce this Woolly Mammoth footprint.
1. Eat less red meat
Meat is one of the biggest contributors to our Carbon Footprint – an acre of arable crops can feed 20 times as many people as it will cattle. Beef and lamb have the biggest Carbon Footprint of 16 tonnes per tonne of meat compared with 5 for pork and 4 for chicken. Aside from carbon, flatulent cattle are responsible for 14% of the planet’s methane emissions. Cutting down to once or twice a week and having smaller portions is the way to go. Another option is Kangaroo. Kangaroos have different digestive systems to cattle and therefore don’t produce as much methane. They also don’t need cleared land like cattle so Kangaroo meat yields much fewer GHGs. It’s also a much leaner cut of meat so wont only reduce the size of your footprints.
2. Consume less Dairy
The dairy Carbon Foot print encompasses the same issues as the beef production above, including and in addition too: the growing of the cattle feed; the processing of the milk; the transport to a distribution centre; refrigerated transport to the stores; and refrigeration of the processed milk in store and in our homes. Dairy Australia estimated in 2007 that the dairy industries emissions for that year were 1,069 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Now if the Dairy Corporation themselves estimated this figure, you have to imagine it to be more than this in reality. Keep in mind, cow’s milk is designed for baby cows, not us.
3. Invest in a water filter
Making bottles and shipping water across the world is enormously energy intensive. The greenhouse emissions generated for each bottle is comparable to driving a car for two kilometres, not to mention the waste that is caused by the constant disposal of these bottles that are missing the recycle bin. If you have a thing for filtered water, then consider investing in a filter jug for the home and office, or have one installed in your kitchen for a constant supply. This won’t only reduce your Carbon Footprint, but will also save you money.
4. Avoid processed and packaged foods
Every stage in the manufacturing of processed food uses energy. Processed and packaged food needs energy to produce it, process it, package it, ship it and store it. Each step generating GHGs. Some packaging may be necessary, but avoiding processed and overly packaged foods will reduce emissions substantially. Take a leaf out of Michael Pollan’s book ‘In Defence of Food’, and “don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognise”.
5. Shop local
This doesn’t just refer to shopping at your nearest supermarket. It means being aware of where your food has come from, and choosing foods with the least amount of Food Miles. This not only reduces your Carbon Footprint, but it also supports local business and economy.
6. Choose carefully and consume less
Only buy food that you really need, and chose products with lower GHG emissions. Plan for the week ahead and shop with a list. Never shop when you’re hungry either as you will undoubtedly buy more than you need. Cutting down on the amount you buy is one of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint, along with your waistline and food expenses.
7. Avoid waste
This point goes hand in hand with choosing your food carefully. A recent survey showed that Australians are throwing away $1.1 billion or 3 million tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables every year, and this is just households. Unnecessary GHGs are generated through waste handling and treatment, not to mention the decomposition in landfills. The methane produced by decomposing food is around 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Be aware of the food in your home and its use by date. Try to use up what you have before going out and buying more. This of course, will also save you time and money at the checkout.
Whether you decide to cycle with a green bag slung over the handle-bars, or drive the family Toorak tractor to the local deli, it can make all the difference to how big your feet look when you finally sit down at your dinner table.