The Low Carbon Emissions Diet: Why is it important?

That the earth is going through a warming phase in now irrefutable. We also know that our actions, both as individuals and as a society, are contributing to this warming. The question is: What can we do about it?

Fortunately, everyone shares in the daily ritual of eating. The effects of our food choices produce over thirty percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for a large portion of global warming. As chefs and food professionals, we have both a personal and professional responsibility to promote reform in the system to correct this problem.

The conventions of the Low Carbon Emissions Diet are simple, but the science behind them is not. In Europe they have been working on these issues longer than in the US, and so much of our current knowledge comes form across the Atlantic.

Here in the United States the biggest push to understand these issues came from The Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation. They commissioned a scientific study from Ecotrust in Portland, OR which summarizes much current data.

Certainly, much more data is needed.

I have been working with these issues since April when I wrote an article for the newspaper on Low Carbon Diets. Since that time, I adopted Low Carbon policies for The Sunny Side Café where I’m the chef, and repeatedly run into areas of fuzzy knowledge.

In upcoming blogs, I will write about all of the different ways I’ve adjusted my style of management / purchasing / cooking / menu planning / etc. I’ll also point out where contradictions or difficulties occurred.

I know there are a growing number of people trying to integrate these ideas into real world situations, whether  large chain operations, a small corner deli, or a family farm. This entire field is a work in progress, and we need to foster a lively discussion and debate to advance our understanding.

That said, the most important principles of a Low Carbon Emissions Diet include:

  • Reduce your intake of meat, especially meat from ruminants: cows, sheep, goats, bison, deer. Chicken and pork are still high carbon foods, but not quite as high.
  • Reduce your intake of dairy, which is also from ruminants.
  • Reduce the use of hot-house / greenhouse grown vegetables. Buy locally grown veggies whenever possible.
  • Buy organic whenever possible.
  • Reduce food waste.
  • Reduce your total food miles.
  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Decrease the amount of packaging you utilize – especially plastic bags and other non-recyclables.
  • Increase the efficiency of your cooking methods.
  • Decrease your water usage.

There are certainly other topics, but these ten will account for over 95% of the carbon created by our food system as a whole. I will address each of these issues in upcoming blogs.

-Aaron French