The scientific literature is surprisingly quiet about global warming, climate crisis and eating, but what it does say offers some surprising choices. Buying ready-to-eat or semi-prepared meals; developing organic farming; and learning to love plant-based eating are all ahead.
Does eating low on the food chain really help the climate? Does raising animals for food contribute to global warming?
Yes, probably a little: about 6 percent, according to the University of Chicago (see below). Maybe a lot.
Eating is connected not just to food processing, fertilizing, using synthetic chemicals, and burning fossil fuels. It’s also connected to deforestation (so animals can graze), more methane (farted from cattle, as they eat) and factory-farmed conventional agriculture.
Adding chemical additives to food, devouring the saturated fat/inflammatory compounds in meat, and mass producing food-as-a-commodity–contributes to diseases such as, respectively, multiple chemical sensitivities; heart disease, breast/prostate/colorectal cancer; and nutritional deficiencies.
And those are just disease states: how the same processes affect day-to-day optimal functioning flies under the clinical radar. A recent 50 year USDA study showed that many field crops contain fewer B vitamins and minerals than they did, 50 years ago.
Objections to a plant-based diet are ones which vegetarians have heard many times, but now those objections can be answered practically and flavorfully, because the wizards of food technology can make almost anything taste good and available. The trick is to do it with as few processes as possible.
Attacking global warming with your knife and fork also means not having to buy a Prius, unless you want to. Engineering protein from meat means takes “ten times as much fossil fuel and heat-trapping carbon dioxide than does a calorie of plant protein.” That’s more bang, according to an energy consumption and diet study from the U of Chicago, than the Toyota hybrid, many of which are now sitting on lots, unsold.
Should you choose home cooked, semi-processed (what I call speed-scratch cooking) or ready-to-eat meals? They’re about equal in environmental impact, as meals go. “…the ready-to-eat meal used the most energy, whereas the homemade meal had higher emissions…causing global warming.
On the one hand, driving to the market worsens pollution and uses fossil fuel. So, drive less, buy larger quantities, buy longer shelf-life items, grow more of your own?
On the other hand, half of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten; people buy too much now, and throw it away if they don’t eat it: a double loss. Plus, the larger quantities you have around, and on your plate, the more you eat. Mindless eating.
And as we produce 3900 calories for every man, woman and child in the U.S., and need barely 2200 on average, finding ways to incentivize producing–and eating–fewer and higher quality calories could do much more than quell obesity. It might cool the planet.