Your diet can be the most significant impact you make on the environment over your lifetime, so follow these 4 ways to eat for the environment.

It’s not just about eating for your own personal wellness, today it’s about eating for a healthier planet. Fifty-nine percent of consumers say it’s important to them that the foods they purchase and consume be produced sustainably, up from 50% the previous year. And they’re right, as what you put on your plate makes an enormous impact on planetary health—making it one of the single most significant things you can do in your own lifetime to reduce your environmental footprint.

The Food System and the Environment

Ever since the first farmer struck his shovel into the dirt, the health of the environment at the hands of agriculture has been on a slow decline. In the last fifty years, a much more dramatic effect has occurred due to the growing industrialization of the food system. As farms got larger, more intensive and vertical, and less diverse, there has been a substantial increase in production, but with consequences, including pollution, contaminants, like nitrogen and pesticides, and depletion of natural resources, such as soil and water (IOM, 2015), as well as contribution to climate change (Behrens, et al., 2017).

“There are many ways that our food system impacts the environment,” says Christian Peters, Associate Professor at Freidman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, in the Agriculture, Food and Environment division. While there are numerous ways in which our diets impact the planet, including soil health, soil erosion, biodiversity, water quality, and agricultural inputs flowing into our waterways, Peters lists the top four concerns as follows:

  • Energy Use. “A great deal of energy is used in our food system, which accounts for about 15-17% of our total energy use. There is so much mechanization in our food supply, from farms, food processing, transportation, and retail stores,” says Peters. This energy is largely in the form of fossil fuels, which increases greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Climate Change. On top of energy use, other issues, such as deforestation to make way for more farms, fertilizer production, and methane and nitrous oxide emissions contribute to global warming. (Sustainable Table, n.d.) No wonder that agriculture is responsible for up to 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions. (Aleksandrowicz, et al., 2016)
  • Land Use. “Over 50% of the land in the lower 48 states is used for some sort of agriculture,” says Peters. This intensity of agriculture exacerbates climate change, drives biodiversity loss, degrades soils, and threatens water resources. (Aleksandrowicz, et al., 2016)
  • Water Use. It’s the same scenario for water, according to Peters, who reports that 70% of the world’s water withdrawals go for agriculture, which endangers supplies of water needed for human health, as well as a beautifully, bio-diverse planet. (Aleksandrowicz, et al., 2016)

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