Making Climate-Friendly Food Choices


Authored by Ariel Hamburger and Rebeca Appel

While climate change might seem completely overwhelming, many individuals and families find it empowering to learn strategies they can implement in their day-to-day lives to help reduce—or mitigate—the impacts of climate change. One way is to make a change on your plate. Every day, multiple times a day, we make food choices that can positively or negatively impact our climate. The Environmental Protection Agency attributes 10% of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to agriculture. However, that 10% refers solely to the production of food and does not account for its transportation from a farm to your table, which means the total amount of GHG emissions produced by agriculture is much higher.

Rather than be deterred by this news, here are three easy steps you can take to make more climate-friendly food choices!

Eat More Locally-Grown and Caught Food

CrabPhoto credit: Slow Fish San Diego

Due to our wonderful weather in San Diego, there are farmers’ markets in operation year-round and every day of the week. Going to the farmers’ market can be a fun and engaging activity for all ages. Farmers’ markets also provide an invaluable opportunity to know the farmers who grow your food. More information on dates and times of farmers’ markets can be found here. San Diego is also fortunate to have the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, which is open every Saturday from 8:00am to 3:00pm. The market offers fresh caught seafood direct from local fisherfolk. Purchasing locally-grown and caught food means your food is not traveling across the county, or the world, to get to you. The fewer miles your food must travel, the better off for the planet – and more importantly, the food is certain to be tastier!

Reduce Food Waste

Tips to use berriesToo Good To Waste: Berries

An astounding 30-40% of food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten. When food is wasted, all the water, labor, energy, and other inputs that go into the food go to waste. Much of that waste occurs at the retail and consumer levels, which means we play a role, too. Simple steps like planning out meals and shopping trips can make a big difference in the amount of food you end up throwing away. Knowing how to lengthen the lifespan of fresh food (for example, when to put berries in the freezer for use in a smoothie on a later date) will ensure less food ends up in your trash can. Lastly, investing in and learning about composting is another way to keep organic materials out of the landfill. The County has produced a series of storage tips for commonly used fruits and vegetables found here.

Eat Less Meat

Carbon FootprintGHG emissions of 20 common foods. Click to expand.

Believe it or not, eating less meat can have a greater impact on your carbon footprint than reducing the number of miles you drive. Animals require a ton of water, feed, and land to produce the protein that ends up in your meal. By contrast, other plant-based proteins such as beans or legumes are not nearly as carbon-intensive. Many schools and organizations have adopted campaigns like Meatless Monday as a way to transition to a more plant-forward diet. In fact, studies have shown that eating completely vegetarian for one day a week could save the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent of 1,160 miles. If you are concerned about protein intake, check out these 15 best plant-based protein foods that are a great alternative to meat proteins. When combined with eating locally-grown fruits and vegetables, you will really be doing the planet a service.

If you are curious about other ways to reduce your carbon food footprint, check out the Eat Low Carbon website that includes diet tips, a quiz, and different food scores.