Why I'm Following a "Climate Change Diet" - Eating Local, Thinking Global

Eating Local & Thinking Global: My 2019 New Year’s Resolution

How and why I’m changing my diet to fight food insecurity and climate change.

Last year when President Trump decided to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, my sister went on a diet.

The landmark Paris Agreement – an international agreement among countries to combat climate change – marked the first international effort to find a solution to the harmful human impact on climate change. It was also the first agreement to acknowledge our fault and responsibility for it.

My sister – an environmentalist and staunch political follower of international agreements – was disappointed and annoyed by President Trump’s decision. But unlike myself – who groaned, complained, rolled my eyes at it, and said, “Of course,” – she decided to do something about it.

As long as she was in the US, she would not eat food whose farm-to-table pathway had a high carbon footprint. That is, if it was notably harmful to the environment for people in the US to eat it, she would not.

This diet, she has followed for the past year and a half.

what's a climate change diet - fresh product at a farmers market

What’s the “Climate Change diet”?

The “Climate Change Diet” (what I’m calling my sister’s diet choice) is a set of food rules to follow based on a person’s location with the purpose to minimize that person’s carbon footprint.

For those who may not know or need a refresher, here’s what carbon footprint means:

Carbon footprint: The total amount of greenhouse gasses produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Each person has their own carbon footprint – the sum of all CO2 emission induced by that person’s activities – and can calculate their score. As CO2 is a major greenhouse gas contributing to global warming, knowing one’s carbon footprint can help a person understand how (and how much) they contribute to climate change.

So, what does diet have to do with climate change and someone’s carbon footprint? The answer may surprise you.

Climate Change and Diet

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that the food sector is responsible for 29 percent of global gas emissions. Therefore, “diet” is equal in its contribution to human greenhouse gas emissions to that of electricity and heat production. Furthermore, unsustainable agricultural systems and changes in human eating habits threaten global biodiversity as certain strains of produce are more desirable to eat and thereby monopolize the food production of that particular produce.

Yet, when we think of ways in which we can reduce our own carbon footprint and curb climate change, we first think to turn off the lights. However, changing one’s diet is one of the most immediate and power impacts a person can make to reduce their impact on the planet throughout during their lifetime.

What does that change look like? For a person, that’s shifting toward a more plant-based diet.

CNN recently published an article about how a person can change their diet to combat climate change and what the US needs to do to sustain a healthier planet:

  • Move toward a more plant-based diet
  • Halving the amount of food loss and waste
  • Improving farming practices and technology
  • Consuming less meat and animal-based products

Note: the production of animal products accounts for 78% of total agricultural emission.

I’m just beginning my research into what constitutes a “climate change diet”, but meat that doesn’t come from local farms is definitely out. As I learn more and share more about what it means to eat a diet with a low carbon footprint, my diet will change.

what's a climate change diet - visiting a farmers market

Why I’m doing it now.

Ultimately, I’m not happy with the direction in which our country and our world are going. It scares me.

By the year 2030, the world will not produce enough food to feed every person in it. And a recent study estimated that the environmental pressure of the global food system could increase by 90% by 2050. That means what and how we eat will have that much more of an impact on our planet.

If I can make a muffin by mixing power and water in a mug and sticking it in the microwave for a minute, no one should have to travel over 30 minutes to access clean water. If I can throw away leftovers that I forgot to eat because they were pushed to the back of the fridge, the local farmers in Ohio should not be struggling to feed their own families. We are too advanced in our society to reconcile the incredible waste of food and resources while millions in our own country are hungry. And, we are too connected now to not believe that we do not have a responsibility to the health and safety of other countries and our shared planet.

Considering all this – and with New Year’s resolutions still gripping for fruitility – I feel that now is the perfect time to start. No more complaining about what’s going wrong with politics. It’s time to start taking action on what matters to me.

what's a climate change diet - organizing fresh produce

Setting rules and expectations.

I am not a drill sergeant.

I aim to eat healthy, but I also will eat cookies… and ice cream, and tortilla chips, and bagels… you get the point. Unless someone is on a diet to accommodate health concerns, I don’t see anything wrong with “cheating” on your diet once in a while.

I am a foodie. I do not want to be bound to the constraints of my diet if I go over to a friend’s house and they don’t have anything that fits into the edible box I have chosen to stand in. I also do not want to be rude by not eating their food. Nor do I want to pass on opportunities to try something new and exotic when I really, really want to eat it. I’m rationale: I know I will “cheat” on my diet, but when I do, it will for the benefit of something else. (i.e. a unique food experience, being kind to a friend, and not killing my budget.)

Connecting Diet and Climate Change across Cultures

Finally, I love to learn about cultures and food from different communities. I want to explore the connection people have to food and how that influences and is influenced by culture.

Furthermore, one cannot learn about how our food system affects climate change without also discussing the people most directly affected by it. Climate change has already impacted the health, food availability, and drinkable water access of communities across the world. And while scholars look ahead to solve how we are going to feed our growing population, 815 million people around the world are hungry. I want to follow a locally-produce diet to curb my own carbon footprint, but I also want to honor and create traditional meals from places where people are directly affected by the issues of climate change and food insecurity.

How to feed the world without degrading land and water resources, eroding biodiversity and contributing to climate change is among the greatest challenges of our times. – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

That said, my goal is to follow this experience where it takes me, to learn about food insecurity, food culture and cultivation, and ultimately to make an impact. By adhering to this change in my life, I hope to spark a change for the benefit of the planet and all those living on it.

While I am here, I want my contribution to this planet to be a positive one. Following this “climate change diet” is a small step toward reducing my carbon footprint and having a deeper connection to the world and communities I live in. Which in turn, will lead to a healthier lifestyle and healthier planet.


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