This Earth Day, celebrate sustainability with your plate!
Even though we feel like every day should be Earth Day, today is a good reminder of all the things we can do to help the planet. Recent studies estimate that our global food system, the complex web of industries involved in producing, transporting, and marketing food around the world, produces up to 40% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, one of the best steps you can take to reduce your personal carbon footprint is to eat low-emissions foods.*
Actions like eating local to reduce the miles between production and your plate, eating less animal products, and growing your own food all are wonderful ways to ensure your food isn’t negatively impacting the climate, but what are other cost-effective ways to purchase sustainable food?
Eating low on the emissions supply chain! The figure from Our World in Data below shows average emissions of popular foods, divided out by impacted areas.
As you can see, the selection of foods represented have huge range of emissions, from 60kg CO2 per 1kg of beef, to carbon negative nuts. While there is no “perfect” diet that could ever encompass everyone’s nutritional, cultural and economic needs, infographics like these can help us all to make informed decisions when it comes to eating in ways the planet can sustain for many generations to come.
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint By Eating More Of These Foods:
Neutral Emissions and Zero Waste? That’s Nuts!
Depending on the type and methods used to grow, nuts can be considered a carbon-negative food source. Treenuts like almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios and pine nuts all grow on trees and therefore help to store carbon dioxide and produce oxygen for us! It is important to consider that some varieties, like cashews and almonds, require a high amount of water to grow. Others, like pecans, macadamia nuts and hazelnuts, require very little water and are a part of many sustainability projects dedicated to conservation.
Nuts are also a great source of plant-based protein can provide a tasty alternative to animal-based proteins that produce more emissions and are more land intensive. Nuts are also versatile and can be blended to make delicious butters and milks. As an added zero-waste bonus, nuts are almost always available to purchase in bulk, so you can bring your own container and avoid any fossil fuel-based plastics.
Learn how to make your own nut milk here!
Soil Lovin’ Legumes
Another great source of plant-based protein are legumes. They also have high amounts of fiber, carbohydrates, B-vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, and zinc. Known as a nutritional powerhouse, legumes are from the Fabaceae family and produce seed-bearing pods. Examples include beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and soy nuts.
Legumes require less fossil fuels because they, with the help of rhizomes, fixate nitrogen (N2) from the atmosphere into the soil, converting it into high-quality organic matter that increases the soil’s fertility and reduces farmer’s need for synthetic fertilizers. They also serve as a good cover crop to let the soil rest, anchoring the soil and reducing erosion.
Check out this healthy list of legume recipes from the Mayo Clinic!
Seaweed and Algae
Seaweed the Superhero
Growing freely along the coasts and packed with nutrients, seaweed is seeing a resurgence today for its incredible sustainability and product potential.
To start, seaweed absorbs more carbon dioxide than trees, and has the estimated capacity to pull down 1 to 10 billion tons of atmospheric every year. In even cooler news, a team of Australian researchers discovered that adding a local seaweed to 3% of cattle’s diet reduced their methane emissions by 80%.
Because it requires no inputs other than sunlight and the ocean’s natural nutrients, seaweed is an easy and abundant crop to grow. All forms of seaweed are edible, and it can be found in diets all over the world. Seaweed also has the ability to remove excess nutrients from eutrophic areas (caused by fertilizer run-off), meaning it can mitigate the effects of ocean acidification (the carbon emissions consequence that is killing coral reefs).
Seaweed has a negative carbon footprint, absorbing 20% more CO2 than it produces.
To learn more ways to incorporate seaweed into your diet, here are a few ideas from my own cultural diets in The Philippines and Ireland!
Beyond the Plate- Seaweed Packaging
In addition to a nutritious food source, several companies are also using seaweed to design sustainable packaging:
- Notpla makes biodegradable boxes and condiment packages for to-go meals and even edible water capsules for athletes and events.
- Evo & Co began by making edible cups out of seaweed and have since expanded into an entire plant-based material movement in Indonesia that has supported Indonesian seaweed farmers and sustainable lifestyles through their “Rethink Plastic” campaign.
- Seaweed Packaging and other plant-based alternatives offer a biodegradable and renewable solution to plastic pollution.
It’s pretty amazing that we can find solutions to reducing carbon emissions and the pollution in our waterways in the ocean itself.
I hope this list has inspired you to incorporate more low-emissions foods into your life, or at the very least made you hungry for nuts, lentils and seaweed!
*Disclaimer: when it comes to eating sustainably, the first thing you should do is eliminate food waste, so use what you already have, donate what you can’t eat, and compost what you can’t donate before buying more for your pantry. To discover more ways that The Center for EcoTechnology can help you reduce food waste, CLICK HERE!