My family, friends, and regular blog readers know that my New Year’s Resolution is to get rid of the processed food. I’ve been writing about it and living it for two weeks now. In that time, I’ve had a few slip ups but I’m sticking to a 90/10 philosophy to make it more realistic for me. While my main goal is to improve my family’s health, I have realized that sticking to real food will help to cut my carbon emissions. Here’s how:
- Fewer Food Miles ~ Let’s use bread as an example. Instead of shipping all of the ingredients to make bread to a factory where it is made, then shipping that to the grocery store, I’m buying those bread-making ingredients. When bread is made at home, there are much fewer ingredients because there aren’t any fungicides or preservatives. I use local honey or maple syrup instead of the token white sugar to feed the yeast, and this also reduces food miles. Overall, baking bread at home cuts out the middle man and reduces the ingredients, resulting in a smaller impact on climate change.
- Less Packaging ~ When I’m cooking the vast majority of meals in my kitchen, there’s a big reduction in packaging. Let’s continue with the bread example. Instead of a new plastic bread bag and twist tie for each loaf of bread, I am able to reuse bags or store my homemade bread in air tight reusable containers. When it comes to meat, there are no styrofoam trays. And then there are the side dishes: no little single-meal boxes to contend with; I buy in bulk. Instead of a box of flavored rice, I buy a bulk bag of brown rice and add my own flavorings from large jars of seasonings, not a single-use packet. Cutting the packaging reduces greenhouse gas emissions in two ways, by decreasing the amount of petroleum products needed to manufacture the plastic, and by preventing biodegradable packaging, like cardboard, from ending up in a landfill where it will decompose.
- Growing Our Own ~ Okay, I admit it. There’s nothing growing in my garden right now. In fact, we are finally in a cold snap here in CT and my thermometer currently reads 15°F. At this point in time, I do try to source food as locally as possible, but the majority of our fresh fruits and veggies are coming from far away right now. However, in the spring, summer and fall, our garden will have an abundance of produce. We are planning to expand what we grow this season, and we will also continue to get a lot of fruits and veggies from my family’s farm, help both sides of our family to make maple syrup, catch our own fish, get laying hens (finally!), source our dairy locally, and continue to raise as much of our own meat as possible. Getting our food locally helps to reduce carbon emissions becuase we can control how our food is grown and raised. We limit chemical uses as much as possible and try to use low-energy practices.
- Sustainable Meat ~ Meat gets its own category because meat is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions in the human diet. Many people choose to reduce or eliminate meat from their diets as a way to reduce their impact on climate change, but our family chooses to follow a different path. We raise our own meat as much as possible: pigs, turkeys, and chickens; and we buy a 1/4 side of beef to supply our meat for the year. We eat many parts of the animals, not just our favorite cuts, which equates to fewer animals feeding us than the typical American meat-eater. Think about it: a pig has only two tenderloins, so we only eat two pork tenderloins each year. It also means less grain and water are required to raise the animals that will feed us, and therefore fewer carbon emissions from growing that food. It also guarantees that the animals we eat come from farms that meet my own personal moral qualifications for animal treatment, so I know there’s no CAFO, no cutting off tails or beaks, no toxic runoff, and no abuse, which doesn’t necessarily equate to carbon emissions but it’s still important to me.
- Double Duty in the Kitchen ~ I also try to structure the meals that I make so that I can double up on the energy use and cook as efficiently as possible. This isn’t an automatic perk of using less processed food, but it is something about which I am mindful. For example, if I plan to bake something in the oven like a whole chicken, I will also throw in some sweet potatoes, a pan of broccoli and/or cauliflower, and a loaf or two of homemade bread. If the oven is heating up anyway, I may as well use the heat. I can even justify a dessert like apple crisp if there’s room in the oven. Conserving energy used for cooking helps to reduce our overall carbon emissions. Every little bit adds up.
As I said, it’s been two weeks since starting this resolution. In that time, I continue to feel healthy and I have also dropped four pounds. It is most likely due to getting all that sodium out of my diet, but it’s nice to see my waistline, grocery bill and carbon footprint all shrinking at the same time.
Have you got some tips for reducing your impact on climate change? Please share!