How Can You Reduce NYC's Climate "Foodprint"?

Foodprint (n): our food system's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change

Last Saturday, a major summit attracting upwards of 1, 000 participants was hosted by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, New York University and Just Food. The topic which garnered so much interest and attention was food and climate change, yet the media has been largely silent on these issues, and as citizens very few of us understand or even know about the connection between our diet and global warming. When most of us think about how our lifestyles impact climate change, the first actions that come to mind may include switching our light bulbs or riding a bike to work, but it turns out that deciding what to eat for dinner can be of much greater consequence. The simple fact is that globally, an estimated one-third of all human-caused greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions are from our food system, while the transportation sector accounts for only 14%. In other words, a significant portion of our global greenhouse gas emissions are a direct result of the ways in which we grow, process, package, transport, store and dispose of our food.

We all eat - the lucky ones among us eat three times a day or more - and as Anna Lappé, author of soon to be released Diet for a Hot Planet and luminary of the food and climate justice movement points out, "we... can be a part of transforming the climate change story from one of hopelessness to one of renewal, regeneration, and resilience. One powerful way to be part of this historic shift is to align ourselves with a sane food system in our own communities." Individuals have tremendous power to reduce New York City's Foodprint through individual food choices. Here are a few simple tips to help you adopt a diet that is better for you, better for the planet, and a whole lot better tasting, too.

Cook at home, cook from scratch. In the US, about 80% of energy consumed by the food system is used in food processing, packaging, storage and distribution to retail stores. In addition to racking up foodmiles as products zig-zag across the country and around the world, much of that energy is consumed by processing - moving farm products around to be sliced, diced, combined with other ingredients, processed, packaged and ultimately shipped to wholesalers and retailers.

  • Reduce or eliminate your purchases of processed foods
  • Buy local foods to reduce transportation and storage refrigeration emissions. Patronize your local farmers' markets, join or start a CSA, or grow your own food in community or home gardens

Eat local. US-grown produce alone travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate. This figure does not include domestic animal-based food transport, or imported foods which comprise 18% of US food consumption. Through Farmers Markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs city residents can take advantage of opportunities to access the NYC foodshed directly. These direct markets help consumers to avoid many of the GHG emissions associated with transport and packaging and offer healthy, fresh, local, and often organic food at lower prices than many supermarkets.

  • Join or start a CSA in your community
  • Support your local farmer's market
  • Urge your supermarket or co-op to "buy local"

Don't panic, choose organic. In 2001, the last year for which the Environmental Protection Agency has published data, 675 million pounds of chemical pesticides, which contribute to GHG emissions both in their manufacturing process and in their transportation, were used in U.S. agriculture. Studies have shown that organic agriculture systems emit 48-66% less carbon dioxide per hectare (about 2.5 acres) than conventional farming systems that rely on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic farming methods also often employ methods of soil management that result in the capture, instead of the release, of GHGs, particularly CO2. Support farms that you know are avoiding petroleum-based inputs and building healthy soils by using organic or sustainable farming practices

  • Encourage supermarkets and bodegas to stock fresh, organic foods

Eat less meat. While approximately one-third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are from our food system, almost 58% of GHGs from food are from meat, poultry, eggs, fish and dairy. A Cornell University study found that food production for a low-fat, plant-based diet would require less than half an acre of New York State land per person each year, while a diet high in fats and meat requires nearly five times as much land, or 2.11 acres per person.

  • Reduce or eliminate the amount of animal products in your diet
  • Choose organic or sustainably-raised meat and dairy products

And if you're really committed - grow your own! Urban agriculture is key to addressing a range of environmental, social, economic and public health challenges. The nearly 20,000 members of NYC's gardens grow food for themselves, their neighbors, emergency food programs, and for sale at market. Food grown at these sites often uses organic methods and converts compost to fertile soil, thereby bypassing the emissions generated by food production, transport, and waste. This also improves our urban environment as green vegetation can reflect as much as 20% to 25% of radiation from the sun, thus reducing the "heat island effect" in cities and cooling the climate in urban areas.
• Join and support a community garden
• Grow your own food in your home, yard, windowsills and/or rooftops
• Compost your food waste