Aside from being both quick and delicious, I love that Soup of White Beans and Winter Greens has a fairly low carbon footprint, especially now that I can grow greens in my greenhouse. After transportation, food production and waste are the next biggest contributors to climate degradation. I’ve become aware of how I can mitigate the carbon footprint of my food. Even small changes make a difference.
Long Distance Food
I first learned about long-distance food in 1975, long before I knew about climate change. I was in college, living and dining at a natural foods cooperative because I had such a high number for the housing lottery that’s all that was left. The unintended consequence of what had seemed like bad luck at the time was learning about the environmental cost of conventional food production. A pound of beef, I learned, required sixteen pounds corn to produce. As a result, I became a vegetarian in an attempt to eat closer to the ground.
In 1984, I moved to Vermont and planted a tomato beside the cabin I rented for the summer. In May of the following year, Tim and I put seeds in the ground just hours after buying our first house. The next month, Patrick, a piglet arrived. I wasn’t a vegetarian anymore.
The word “localvore” hadn’t yet been coined, and I wasn’t thinking of the climate; I was thinking of convenience and satisfaction. I lived a half hour drive from a grocery store, and I was in love with the miracle of raising plants I could eat.
In 1991, neighbors farming organically started a Community Supported (CSA), where we picked up a box of vegetables each week from April to October. By then, we had three children under four years old and thought having someone else grow our food was a good idea.
Fast forward thirty years.
Despite numerous attempts to stop what’s sometimes seems like an obsession, we’ve failed miserably to stop growing food. But we don’t pretend to be self-sufficient; we try to be mindful.
The majority of the ingredients for White Beans and Winter Greens comes from away: olive oil (California), anchovies (Portugal); sea salt (which sea, I don’t know), black pepper (Indonesia? Malaysia?), dried cannellini beans (Italy). But the most perishable—the ones with the highest fuel-to-energy ratio if I bought them in the store—come from the passive-solar greenhouse out my back door.
It’s possible to eat only local food, but If we can prevent the planet from burning up, we might not have to. Here are some ideas for reducing the carbon footprint of food:
- Buy food less traveled.
- Buying food from local producers doesn’t just use less gas; it also supports a local economy.
- Buy food less packaged.
- Not only is fresh produce shrinking to the perimeter of the conventional grocery store, but it’s now often unnecessarily packaged as well. When possible, choose loose vegetables and put them in reusable bags. Buy in bulk if possible.
- Buy food in reusable or recyclable containers.
- Paper and cardboard are biodegradable, as are some corn-based containers that look and act like plastic, but can be composted. If your community has composting for these containers, use them.
- Buy food less processed.
- It’s nearly impossible to avoid all processed food. Milk, yogurt, tofu, flour, sugar, butter—these are all processed foods, as are single serving, frozen dinners.
- Instead of counting calories, choose foods based on the BTUs used for production and transportation.
- Buy food in its raw form and cook it at home. Sharing home-cooked meals isn’t just good for the planet; it’s also good for the soul.
These are just a few simple ideas for small changes. What are your ideas for reducing the carbon footprint of what you eat? Please share!