Welcome back to the second installment of BFJN’s “Let’s Talk Climate Change” blog series! In the last blog, I wrote about my own Christian conviction for climate justice. My prayer is that those words impacted you and sparked a care and curiosity for the earth. So now, throughout the rest of the blog series, I will be exploring several aspects of the climate dilemma and offering some solutions and perspective changes to work towards a cleaner planet. Up first, food!
When I became interested in environmental justice, food was certainly not the first thing that came to mind. I thought, what can be so bad about the food industry? Doesn’t my leftover dinner decompose on its own in the trash? The answers to those questions are actually more nuanced than a simple yes or no and are important to explore. Let’s begin with the industry itself.
The easiest thing to spot when you’re shopping for groceries is the amount of plastic packaging. Just about everything, including some produce, comes pre-packaged in plastic. Therefore, the easiest swap in our mindset and practices when it comes to grocery shopping is to try and swap plastic for other materials like cardboard or aluminum that can easily be recycled. Instead of buying seltzer that comes in the plastic bottle, buy the aluminum. We can bring our own reusable bags and produce bags to the store, buy in bulk when possible, and be mindful about how much plastic we are buying and see what alternatives there are in our local grocery store.
Along with the obvious culprit, plastic, there are many other areas of the food industry that have negative impacts on the climate. Ever wonder how you’re able to buy a beautiful package of strawberries in the dead of winter? That’s because the strawberries are grown far away and shipped thousands of miles to your local grocery store. In the transportation of the fruit tons of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. And that doesn’t even cover the harmful chemicals used to grow many fruits and vegetables. The best thing we can do when it comes to deciding what produce to buy in any particular month is to shop seasonally. By doing this, we will reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, plastic in packaging, and usually have the opportunity to support local farmers. To find out more about the in season produce near you, check out this seasonal food guide.
Once we become mindful of the harmful practices of the industry itself, we need to examine our own personal practices when it comes to purchasing, consuming, and disposing of food. Beginning with purchasing, buying less food and pushing against the overconsumption mindset is an important step. This does not mean that we need to go hungry, but rather, it encourages us to be more mindful and intentional about our purchases. For me, planning out my week of meals in advance has been helpful in reducing food waste. I typically take one trip to the grocery store (which cuts down on the amount of fossil fuels I’m using) and only purchase what is on my list. By doing this, I am able to avoid some of the typical food waste that comes with impulse buying and frequent shopping. This also enables me to save money, which is an added bonus. Consumption goes along with this. Through the reduction of food intake from our weekly (or daily) grocery trips, we hopefully will consume the amount of food our bodies need with less waste. Save and eat our leftovers, use up the ingredients sitting in our pantry, and think of innovative solutions that will enable us to use more of the foods we are purchasing. In the United States, 31% (133 billion pounds!) of food is wasted each year contributing to 18% of total U.S. methane emissions from landfills each year. By examining our own daily habits when it comes to food, we can be a part of the solution to cut down on some of this excessive waste.
After looking at the purchasing and consumption of food, it is necessary to examine its disposal. When left in a landfill, our leftover dinner does not break down easily. And as stated above, methane is released as it decomposes, which is particularly problematic as this is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Some of this can be avoided by examining disposal habits. The most common solution to this problem is composting. While this does require a bit of a mess and extra backyard space, many towns have composting programs that make it easier and more accessible to compost. This is different everywhere, so if you are interested, look into the services that your own town offers and start there! There will also be a composting guide available at the conclusion of this blog.
When looking at the food industry in this way, it can seem extremely overwhelming. Where do you even begin? My suggestion is to pick one thing mentioned above and start there. Whether that means looking for seasonal produce at the farmers market or starting your own backyard compost, your actions can make a difference. By starting small and continuing to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for the world around us and how it sustains human beings, we can all work towards reducing our waste and ultimately, creating a cleaner planet in the future.