A guest entry by the incredibly talented Amanda Lin AKA
About 1/3 (!!) of our global greenhouse gas emissions come from our food systems. This encompasses everything from deforestation and production to transportation, packaging, and waste.
Greenhouse gas emissions from our food system come from 4 parts…
- LAND USE: preproduction, includes emissions released by deforestation and degradation of peatlands
- AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION: actual production processes, encompasses everything from fertilizer to machinery fuel to methane released by livestock
- SUPPLY CHAIN: journey from producers to retail, includes transportation, food processing, packaging, and in-store refrigeration
- CONSUMPTION: all else once the food reaches our hands, involves energy used for cooking, refrigerating, and even emissions released by food waste 🗑️
My cow may be cross-eyed but the message is still true!
Cattle farming 🐄 is the #1 driver of tropical deforestation, responsible for the clearing of forests equivalent to the area of 4 million football fields (American 🏈) each year.
Soy and palm oil 🌴 dominate the #2 category of “oilseeds” which includes crops like sunflower and sesame too. And over 70% of soy is used for animal feed alone.
Together, these 2 categories cause 60% of tropical deforestation, releasing the greenhouse gases stored by those trees into our atmosphere
Producing 1 liter of cow milk requires 628 liters of water 😱 That’s 1.6x more than what’s required to produce the same amount of almond milk, 14x more than oat milk and 24x more than soy milk. Not to mention, it causes triple the amount of greenhouse gas emissions
Try a plant milk! Save a buttload of water!
This week at COP28 (annual UN climate summit), the role of our food system in the fight against climate change was formally recognized for the first time!
THE GOOD 😄
- it was the first COP with a dedicated day for food issues
- 130+ countries signed an agreement to reduce GHG emissions from food production/consumption
- UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presented a roadmap to reach our climate goals, including reducing agricultural methane emissions 25% and eliminating chronic hunger by 2030, and turning food systems into a carbon sink by 2050.
THE LESS GOOD 😕
- the agreement has no legal binding
- it set no concrete targets for eliminating fossil fuel use within transportation, farm machinery, and refrigeration
- it doesn’t urge reducing meat and dairy consumption/production (which we learned from days 3+4 are inordinately detrimental in deforestation, land use, and fresh water usage, right?)
But at least world leaders are finally willing to admit the food system’s outsized role in our climate fight. So taking a moment to celebrate the win 🏆
People often think buying organic is better for the environment. well… it’s complicated. while conventional farming does use fossil fuel-based fertilizers and synthetic pesticides that release NO2 (the most potent GHG), there’s no clear winner when it comes to emissions, land use, or water. it depends on the crop.
☝️ if your goal is reducing your environmental impact, WHAT you eat is much more influential than HOW it’s grown.
- organic fruit 🍎 farming causes lower GHG emissions than conventional fruit farming, but organic dairy 🧀 production causes more
- BUT reducing dairy in your diet has a far greater impact on reducing emissions than does choosing conventionally farmed dairy over organic
- the relative difference in emissions between organic and conventional dairy is less than 2x. the impact of reducing dairy in your diet overall could be more than 60x!
Healthy soil is intimately connected with environmental health and fighting climate change, but every 5 seconds a ⚽️ field’s worth of soil is eroded. Why should we care??
Some of its many important qualities…
- 95% of our food grows from soils. That means food security
- Healthy soil stores and purifies water as it flows through
- Soil absorbs carbon and is the 2nd largest carbon sink (after the ocean), containing more carbon than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined! When we damage it, the carbon is released back into the atmosphere 😱
- The sequestered carbon helps sustain millions of organisms which help increase soil fertility (= better crop yields)
- Healthy soil prevents floods and droughts by limiting erosion and soaking up excess rainwater
So how do we keep it healthy?
- reduce reliance on pesticides and fertilizers (see yesterday’s post on conventional farming)
- crop rotation over monoculture farming (growing only one type of crop)
- planting trees and perennial crops that grow deep roots, helping soils store more carbon
- regenerative farming practices like planting cover crops (eg beans) in between main crop harvests to help soil weather heavy rains and continue carbon sequestration year round
TL;DR: protect your soil
Food demand is projected to increase by 60% by 2050 to feed our growing population, with 820 million people already going hungry today. To meet the demand AND eliminate chronic hunger, we need to do more with less. This includes…
- 🗑️ Eliminating food waste: wasted food means wasted energy, land, water, and GHG emissions that are feeding landfills instead of people
- 👩🏻🌾 Farming smarter: get more output per acre of land by improving crop yields (see yesterday’s post on soil), reducing unsustainable practices (like using chemicals that kill biodiversity), and increasing efficiency in water use
- 🌱Shifting our diets: plant-based diets require less energy production per calorie (and acre of land) and should be adopted in the countries that are already consuming too much meat/dairy
You’ve probably heard that producing chocolate 🍫 (or the cacao beans used to make it) is linked to deforestation, land use, and diminished barriers to disease spread. But don’t fret - there’s hope for us chocoholics out there yet!
These issues are mostly linked to cacao trees grown fully in the sun, as growers first clear out all other trees (to maximize sun) and use lots of fertilizers and pesticides and… it all comes back to soil 🌱
As it turns out, cacao trees can actually grow in the shade of other trees, and these shade-grown cacao stores much more carbon than other annual crops (and 3x the amount that sun-grown cacao stores). They’re also more drought-resistant, weed-resistant, promote biodiversity, and provide a way for some of the world’s poorest populations to make a sustainable living.
So if we want to continue indulging in our chocolate treats (Americans eat 58 MILLION pounds of chocolate every valentine’s day 😮), cacao growers should receive the support and subsidies required to transition to shade-grown farming.
The average adult needs ~50 grams of protein per day, but where we get this protein from can have a BIG impact on our environment.
for each 100g of protein, beef generates 49.9kg of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, whereas nuts generate only 0.26kg. that’s almost 200x the amount of emissions for the same amount of protein!
tl;dr - next time think twice about how you get your gains 💪
38% of all food produced worldwide is wasted, from what’s tossed on the farm to the food you trash at home. That’s 1.3 BILLION TONS (!!) of food that ends up in landfills each year, or the weight of ~8 MILLION blue whales of food wasted annually 🐋😰
As if that’s not bad enough, some additional food (sorry, had to) for thought…
- The wasted food alone is enough to feed all of the world’s hungry many times over
- Food waste generates ~8% of all greenhouse gas emissions. As it rots in landfills it emits methane, a GHG even more potent than CO2
- When food is wasted it means the water, land, fuel, energy used (and resulting emissions generated) is also wasted
I’ve spent the past 2 years working in food waste and trust me - there’s so much more to learn. Stay tuned!
tl;dr - EAT YOUR FOOD🍴SAVE THE WORLD ✌🏼
“beans, beans they’re good for your heart…”
to know me is to know that i’m low key obsessed with beans 🤤 yes, they’re delicious, but there are many other reasons to love them:
👍HEALTHY: they’re rich in protein, fiber and micronutrients but low in fat
🌬️LOWER EMISSIONS: one of the lowest footprint crops with some generating over 100x LESS greenhouse gas emissions per gram of protein than beef (see day 10’s post)
💧WATER-EFFICIENT: they require less water than many other crops
🌱SOIL-BOOSTING: they improve soil and water quality by absorbing nitrogen from the atmosphere and reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers
🌈DIVERSE: there’s a huge variety (~400 types!) that can be eaten at various stages for different flavors (did you know that butter beans are just mature lima beans?)
☝️BONUS: check out @beansishow to learn more, an initiative to double global bean consumption by 2028 that i’m also low key obsessed with
in conclusion, “…so eat beans for every meal”
The graph shows global annual meat 🥩 consumption per capita (not including seafood and fish) from 1961-2020. As you can see, the amount of meat we consume has almost doubled in the past 60 years, from 23kg to 42kg. 🤯
Meat is not categorically bad - it’s an important source of nutrition for many around the world. But it DOES have severe environmental impacts - producing meat causes more GHG emissions, deforestation, and freshwater usage than many other sources of nutrition in our diets (see yesterday’s post on #beans )
As countries get richer, meat consumption tends to get higher. It’s not about cutting out meat altogether (though if you do, all the power to ya!) - it’s about not eating SO MUCH meat. We don’t need a breakfast sausage, a lunch burger AND a dinner steak, people. Your healthier heart will thank you 🙏🏼
I haven’t given 🐟 the TLC they deserve, so today’s post is dedicated to these noble swimmers in our next episode of “We Waste Too Much Food” 🗑️
~35% of fish caught are wasted before they reach your plate. That’s millions of TONS worth of dead fish that could be providing nutrition to starving people but is instead rotting on landfills.
Some of the biggest causes:
🕺CONSUMERS: ugh, it’s us! the biggest cause of fish waste! High income countries are the biggest culprits, with North America and Oceania FAR in the lead. Of all seafood wasted in the US, consumers account for a shocking 63% 🤯
🛒 GROCERY STORES: retailers prioritize fresh fish because we buy fresh fish, and that means they’re holding goods that spoil quickly. As a result, stores often lose 10-30% of their inventory
🎣 FISHING METHODS: ~10% of wild-caught fish are tossed because they were caught unintentionally with methods like bottom-trawling (which indiscriminately catches everything on the seafloor) and policies allow fishers to discard them. In 2019, this accounted for 230 MILLION kg of wasted fish in EU waters alone. Ridiculous, no?
So what are some ways we can help?
🧊 Opt for frozen fish over fresh to shift demand in stores and limit how much is lost in our homes.
Support policies that discourage fishers from discarding fish
💰 Support subsidies for small fishers over industrial, which tend to use methods like bottom-trawling
In conclusion: Eat your food. Save the world. ✌️
If you’re anything like me, then you find it hard to imagine a life completely devoid of cheese 🧀 Unfortunately, its footprint is quite high, ~2x that of chicken (see day 10’s post). It takes lots of milk to make, which requires cows/sheep/goats, all of which release lots of methane, a GHG 28x more potent than CO2.
Emissions vary greatly by type:
👆HARD cheeses: highest CO2e footprint, requiring the most milk (~10 liters milk/kg cheese). Some need high-temperature cooking (eg Parmesan) and tend to be aged longer, requiring continuous refrigeration, meaning - you guessed it - even more emissions
👉SOFT cheeses: lower footprint, containing more water (~5-8 liters milk/kg)
👇 FRESH cheeses: lowest footprint (~4 liters milk/kg). The squishier, the better
Actions we can take:
🥲 Eat LESS: similar to meat, we should treat it more like a luxury product
☁️ Eat SOFT: enough said
👶 Eat YOUNG: aged cheese = increased refrigeration
📍 Eat LOCAL: cut down on transport-related emissions
We know from day 10’s post that grains 🌾are one of the most climate-friendly ways to get our daily nutrition, high in protein and fiber. For each 100g of protein, grains generate ~2.7kg of GHG emissions, compared to the 49.9kg of emissions that beef generates (18x!)
A random assortment of grain facts:
- Sorghum: requires little water and resilient in most weather conditions; very efficient at absorbing carbon from the air and rooting it back into soil
- Oats: requires much less water than other crops and is often grown through crop rotations, which halts soil erosion
- Rye: has an extensive, deep root system that helps it outlive other whole grains on infertile soils and extreme climates
- Rice: although a nutritious staple for 3+ billion people, it’s one of the least sustainable grains, as its production generates lots of methane
TL;DR not as climate-friendly as my beloved beans, but one of the lowest-emission ways to get your nutrition!
Happy holidays and Merry Christmas🎄to those of you who celebrate!
This time of year, food waste increases by 25%, so donate your extras to food banks and compost what’s left
Packaging makes up ~10% of the average food group’s total GHG emissions. 8 of the top 10 litter types found in our oceans are food-related, all of which disrupt ecosystems, interfere with the ocean’s ability to fixate carbon, and often migrate up the food chain onto our plates, hurting our health.
Most packaging is made from plastic (produced from fossil fuels), whether from bottles to shopping bags to takeout containers. The US alone produces 42 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. That’s 3.7 million school buses worth (!!) and more than any other country in the world
I’ll do an in-depth post on plastic later on, but in the meantime:
🍼 use your own bottle
🛍️ bring your own bags
♻️ go for recycled, compostable, or biodegradable packaging
The energy and fuel required to transport food from farms around the world to our plates causes ~19% of food system GHG emissions, or 3 BILLION metric tons of CO2e each year! 🚛✈️🚢
The biggest impact food miles come from air-freighted foods, often highly perishable produce from far-reaching regions (like berries). When buying groceries, always check the country of origin and try to buy local when you can 📍
A banana 🍌 peel can take up to 2 years to fully decompose in a landfill, but only ~3 weeks when properly composted! Why should we care? Because composting…
♨️ REDUCES METHANE: fruits and veggies release 50% more methane (!) when decomposing in landfills, a GHG more potent than CO2
🔒SEQUESTERS CARBON: it helps capture CO2 from the atmosphere and lock it in soil
✨ ENRICHES SOIL: it helps soil absorb and retain water, reduces erosion, improves quality, and regulates pH
🌱 HELPS PLANTS: it releases important nutrients that improve crop growth and give higher yields without need for synthetic fertilizer
TL;DR - compost your banana peels!
The food that Americans waste annually causes the same volume of GHG gases as 42 coal-fired power plants for 1 year! 🏭 And that doesn’t even include the additional methane emissions that come from the waste rotting in landfills (see yesterday’s post on composting).
The US alone causes 170 MILLION tonnes of CO2e emissions from food waste. That’s the weight of 25 MILLION adult male elephants 🐘 worth of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere 😰
TL;DR - eat your food, save the world ✌️
10 MILLION (!) pounds of food is wasted each year because it is “cosmetically imperfect”, while 820+ MILLION (!!) people go hungry each day. That’s wasted energy, fuel, and emissions just because perfectly delicious food is slightly discolored or misshapen.
Absolutely absurd, no? So show some love to that two-legged carrot and oddly-shaped tomato
TL;DR - eat your food, save the world
Today’s painting is in honor of the new year - some coffee to keep you awake until 2024! 🎆
Coffee production ☕️ causes significant GHG emissions, but if we change farming, processing, and consumption practices, we can lower coffee’s carbon footprint by 77%! Some ways to decarbonize your cup o’ joe:
🌴 SHADE-GROWN: coffee grown in tree canopies prevents soil erosion and helps sequester carbon
🍼 BYO CUPS: reusable cups reduce waste
💡 EFFICIENT BREWING: some brew methods use less electricity and gas (eg French press, stovetop espresso, pour-over)
🌱 COMPOST: composting grounds makes excellent fertilizer while preventing the methane that would otherwise be released in landfills
🔥 ROAST LOCALLY: roasting beans in their origin country makes them lighter for transport, allowing vessels to burn less fuel
🥛 PLANT MILKS: drinks with cow milk have much higher carbon footprints than those with plant milk or none at all
Some positivity to start your 2024 off right
Figs are one of the most sustainable foods you can get. They’re highly nutritious and calorie-dense, boasting one of the lowest CO2 emissions per calorie. Fig trees are very resilient (even during droughts and floods), help restore biodiversity, and even sequester carbon, offsetting a lot of their own emissions 🕺🏼
How to decarbonize your figs even more?
📍BUY LOCAL: reduce the need for transport-related emissions
🛍️ AVOID PLASTIC: favor figs that come in non-plastic containers
TL;DR - have yourself a fig today and HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Today’s watercolor is sponsored by nuts, which have the lowest carbon footprint for the amount of protein they pack
Nuts 🌰 generate ~0.26kg of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions per 100g of protein, compared to the ~50kg generated by beef 🥩. That’s almost 200x less for the same gains!
So next time you’re feeling snacky, choose a handful of these bad boys over beef jerky…or whatever other beef snacks you’re having these days 💪
Seaweedis one of the unsung heroes in our climate fight. It’s delicious, nutritious, and critical in our goal to reach net zero:
🧽 CO2 SINK: an acre of seaweed can sequester 20x the carbon as an acre of trees, nearly 200 MILLION tonnes per year
🐄 METHANE REDUCER: in animal feed, it can significantly reduce the methane released by cattle
📦 BIO-MATERIAL: highly durable and biodegradable, it’s ideal for compostable packaging and textiles
🌱 FERTILIZER: effective natural fertilizer that doesn’t harm soil
PROTECT OUR SEAWEED! 🌊
January is CITRUS season 🍋🍊Buying in-season is better because…
😋 it’s DELICIOUS: fresher and has richer flavor
💰 it’s CHEAPER: peak supply at lower prices
💪 it’s HEALTHIER: produce grown out of season requires chemicals and loses nutritional benefits
🌿 it causes LESS EMISSIONS: food transport is ~19% of our food system’s GHG emissions (3 BILLION metric tons of CO2e)
🗑️ it REDUCES WASTE: the longer food is in transit, the more likely it is to spoil
So get after those lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins, grapefruits and pomelos for a more flavorful and carbon-friendly snack ✌️
They may not be psychedelic, but the mushrooms 🍄 we eat are magical in their own right! They’re one of the world’s most sustainable vegetables, with an extremely low carbon footprint and many benefits…
🤤 YUMMY: with 14,000 varieties, they’re nutritious and delicious
💡 ENERGY-EFFICIENT: 1 pound of button mushrooms requires the same energy needed to run a coffeemaker for an hour
🌳 LAND-EFFICIENT: 1 acre of land = 1 MILLION pounds of mushrooms, meaning less deforestation
💧 WATER-EFFICIENT: <2 gallons of water = 1 pound of mushrooms (vs. 26 gallons for tomatoes)
✨ PESTICIDE FREE: they’re the 5th cleanest crop, often needing no pesticides
💚 SMALL FOOTPRINT: mushroom farms upcycle byproducts from other agricultural areas (eg cow manure, corn cobs, almond husks, etc.) and hand-harvest
📦 UNPACKAGED: can be sold fresh and without plastic packaging
🤯 BONUS: they’re genetically closer to humans than plants - that’s not really a benefit, but it’s a fun fact nonetheless
Don’t wait, get shroomin’ 🙌
Wow, the penultimate day of my challenge! In celebration, I’m treating you to some facts about cow burps 🐄💨
Cow burps are one of the top sources of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas ~28x more potent than CO2! Cows digest grass by fermenting it in their stomachs, which causes them to burp, which then releases methane. With 1.5 billion cows raised for meat and dairy, these belches are responsible for ~25% of all methane emissions, meaning they have the same warming effect as every gas-powered car on Earth 🤯
What can we do?
🥩 EAT LESS: treat beef and dairy like luxury items instead of staples for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and second dinner
🎗️ SUPPORT INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS: many companies are doing cool things to mitigate methane emissions from cows, like…
- Pasture Biosciences (producing vaccines to prevent methane-producing microbes)
- DSM (@dsmfirmenich, manufacturing methane-reducing feed additive)
- Mosa Meat (@mosa_meat, growing cultivated beef)
and many more!
WE DID IT, TEAM 🤩 We made it to day 30! Pouring one out for the end of my challenge, so today’s painting is about alcohol’s climate impact.
Producing alcohol is very resource-intensive and its carbon footprint depends on many factors:
👩🏻🌾 FARMING: ingredients may require fertilizer, heavy water use, and deforestation, and harvesting is mostly done with fuel-powered machines (think: barley for beer, grapes for wine, sugarcane for rum, etc.)
🧪 PROCESSING: energy needed to brew, ferment, distill, etc. Certain alcohols, like tequila, also cause lots of waste in this step
📦 PACKAGING: many containers are single-use, with ~39 million tons of CO2 generated annually from producing glass bottles for wine and spirits alone!
🛻 TRANSPORT + STORAGE: increases as alcohol travels farther and is refrigerated longer
So stop drinking. Kidding, though Andrew Huberman would surely approve.
But do try to drink local. Avoid single-use containers when you can (like drinking beer from tap instead of bottles and cans) and when you can’t, recycle. Happy #dryjanuary 🧃
PS - thanks for your support throughout the challenge 🕺🏼I’ve loved it so much I’ve decided to continue, though perhaps not daily. Keep sending me your ideas and stay tuned!
Text and images copyright Amanda Lin