First things first: What is a food footprint? It’s the environmental impact related to the production of food, and it’s calculated for each person based on the land or sea area needed to grow crops, produce livestock or harvest fish to feed that person. The calculation also takes into account the forested land needed to offset carbon emissions generated in food production, processing, distribution and the decomposition of landfill waste. Because they take up carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for climate change, forests can offset carbon emissions from food production. Reducing your food footprint can be done in five easy steps that also save you money.
According to the Worldwatch Institute, food on average travels 1,500 to 2,500 miles, which means it’s not as fresh as local foods and is often damaged in transit. By purchasing foods grown locally, you obtain fresh food, support your local economy and food growers, and reduce carbon emissions that are associated with large-scale distribution. Local, small-scale growers tend to choose sustainable farming practices as well. Eating locally is now quite convenient, as farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture operations (CSAs) have become prevalent. When you buy a CSA share from a local farm, you receive fresh produce weekly. Check out the LocalHarvest website (localharvest.org) for options in your area.
Eating organic foods reduces soil and water contamination as well as greenhouse gas emissions that are associated with conventional farming. Organic foods are produced and distributed without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Beware, though, of organic foods that come from far away, as the benefits may be reduced by the environmental costs of transportation.
Reduce Your Meat Intake
Meats are much more land- and energy-intensive to produce than plants, and larger animals are more detrimental. To produce one quarter-pound serving of beef, for example, nearly four pounds of grain are needed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Contrast that with one quarter-pound serving of cooked lentils weighing in at an eighth of a pound uncooked.
Reduce Food Waste
Organic foods do cost more than conventionally grown foods, but we also throw out 40 percent of edible food, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The additional cost of organics can be fully offset by reducing food waste. The average U.S. household spends $151 per week on groceries, according to a recent Gallup poll. On average, organic foods cost about 30 percent more than conventionally grown foods, meaning that average family would pay $196 per week for the same foods grown organically. But if that family were to reduce food waste by a mere 25 percent, the cost of organic food would be $147 – less than conventionally grown food with typical patterns of waste. The key to reducing food waste is to freeze or dry what you don’t use, buy and cook only what you will eat, and avoid filling your refrigerator to the point where you cannot see everything. (It’s the spaghetti that moves to the back of the fridge that ends up moldy.) To complete the natural cycle from farm to soil, composting food scraps will keep food from rotting in landfills and producing the potent greenhouse gas, methane.
Have Groceries Delivered
Having your groceries delivered reduces the total food miles traveled, according to the Transportation Research Forum. Delivery options – often with no additional charge – are available in most urban areas from companies such as Green B.E.A.N. (greenbeandelivery.com), Peapod (peapod.com), and Door to Door Organics (doortodoororganics.com).
By Dr. Martha L. Carlson Mazur | firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Martha L. Carlson Mazur is an assistant professor in the School of Environmental Studies.