Monday, December 7, 2009

Copenhagen, Climate Change, and Sustainable Food

Everyone seems to be abuzz about the upcoming Copenhagen conference on climate change. The conference begins on December 7th and will last for eleven days. During that time, an ever-growing number of world leaders will make and shift commitments to reduce their country’s greenhouse gas emissions and will discuss issues such as how to plan for and model the potential impacts of climate change. Scary stuff, sometimes. What’s a sustainable foodie to do, aside from burying our heads in our organic chocolate as we sit at home, surfing the internet for Christmas goodies instead of causing greenhouse gas emissions?

Food choices actually have a large role to play in our greenhouse gas emissions. How does this connect to what’s going on at Copenhagen? Well, we live in a miraculous world where food can fly – in fact, it frequently flies longer distances than the people who eat it. All of this moving food around the planet causes greenhouse gas emissions. When there is an option, choose local food instead of imported food. We’ve made some interesting changes around our house. My daughter has grown up eating fruit frozen at the height of summer, complemented with apples and pears in the winter time. We eat oranges at Christmas, but otherwise, our produce choices are almost entirely local. Reframing what you eat to make imports a treat can be refreshing and make eating exciting again. We have started to enjoy many of the local and winter vegetables that grow here, and this is something that we wouldn’t have done had we continued to buy produce that has flown in from places that we’ve never even visited.

Growing your own food is the ultimate in local eating. Just be sensible about garden inputs. Pesticides and fertilizers use energy to create, and they impact the soil and water in other ways too, adding toxins and nutrients that aren’t meant to exist in the environment in such concentration. Growing food and growing it organically is easy on the earth, even if it’s a small step towards the broader greenhouse gas reduction goals being discussed in Copenhagen.

Food packaging is also a nest of embedded energy. Think of all of the energy that has been used to create the paper and plastic products that surround your food. When people talk about energy at the Copenhagen climate summit, they’ll likely talk about transportation, industry, and efficient homes. One of the many industries that creates greenhouse gas emissions is the packaging industry, and one of the many things that we package is food. Unlike other products that we create, food packaging is often discarded immediately upon purchase. Choose products without packaging, or choose packaging that is recycled and recyclable to reduce your use of embedded energy.

What are you doing to reduce your food-related greenhouse gas emissions? Have you ever considered food to be a climate issue?

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