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Effecting Climate Change Through Food

Didi Emmons

A lot of us think our food choices can’t play an important role in combating climate change.  But in fact, this is where we as individuals can have the most impact. Food production from seed to Cheeto to waste barrel accounts for up to a third of carbon dioxide concentrations (or emissions) on planet earth.  This includes the damage done in clearing land for farms, creating fertilizers,transporting the food, and the many other facets that create our immense food system. To keep things simple, lets look at four things one human can do: 1.)  Lowering our meat intake is key. If we embraced a Mediterranean diet we would make great leaps in lowering our carbon footprint.  Lowering our meat intake is key.  Researchers say that livestock may represent up to 18% of total global emissions. Red meat (and lamb) and other ruminants create a lot of methane because they burp a lot.  And its not that cows need manners.  The burping is a byproduct of their digestion process.  And the fact they are mostly consuming grain as feed, they emit more methane.  Methane is the second most prevalent green house gas emitted by human activity. Not only do animals occupy 70% of all agricultural land use, growing animals is inefficient.  It takes 6 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat.  Eat brown rice! 2)  Eat Local. The average meal travels 1,200 kilometres from farm to plate. Food grown closer to home produces fewer transportation emissions and has better flavor cause its. As the distance food travels decreases, so does the need for processing and refrigeration to reduce spoilage. 3) Compost! The US sent 31 million tons of food waste to landfills in 2007.  Composting this waste would be the equivalent of taking 8.4 million passenger cars off the road! (from Turning Earth 2010).Composting returns organic matter back to the soil. If more carbon is stored in the soil it will reduce the amount in the atmosphere. We all know that 30-40%of the food produced in the world is never eaten. But more sad is that if food waste were its own country it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, after China and the United States. Composting is a very very good idea. More than twice as much carbon is stored in the Earth’s soil as is stored in our planet’s vegetation and atmosphere combined.Agricultural soils lose half of their carbon though chemical fertilizers,burning and heavy machinery.  Composting reverses this process. Locally there are many that do their part to combat food waste.  Loving Spoonfuls rescues food from local farms,produce wholesalers, grocery stores to feed the hungry. 20% of food grown never leaves the fields. The Boston Area Gleaners in Waltham has their volunteers pick from farms and donate to stores like Daily Table and shelters. Luckily our (The) Fruit Center is a bit more thrifty than many supermarkets.  They discount their less perfect produce in a centrally located section.  They also use the imperfect produce for their salad bar. And from the sounds of it, composting is underway. 4.) Refrain from throwing food or leftovers out. Train your sniffer - they may not be as good as a dogs is, but they can tell when a food is off.  Grains like quinoa, polenta or rice can last 12 or more days.  Cooked veggies can be eaten for seven days, raw veggies can last longer.  Cooked chicken and other meat can keep for five days or more.  Fish, well, just try not to buy more than you can eat or if you do, add it to a salad for lunch the next day. And try not to buy as much food if you are always throwing food out.  Fridges are 20% bigger than they were a couple of decades ago, and we don’t have to fill them up. Sustainable Milton will be hosting the film “Wasted” with Anthony Bourdain on Wednesday October 24, 6 pm at the Milton Library. Also, at the library the Milton Garden Club will be hosting “Composting for Everyone”October 17 from 6-8 pm Didi Emmons is an author and personal chef and board member of Sustainable Milton.

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