I started this blog over three years ago and in that time, I don’t think I’ve explained why I focus on food.
The short answer
This quote comes from the introduction to a section on food in the book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken:
Livestock emissions, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, are responsible for an estimated 18 to 20 percent of greenhouse gases annually, a source second only to fossil fuels. If you add to livestock all other food-related emissions—from farming to deforestation to food waste—what we eat turns out to be the number one cause of global warming.
The long answer
1. I eat
I have always tended toward minimalism (not everyone does). Clutter makes me anxious likely because, to me, it signifies upkeep. The more stuff I own, the more I have to work at maintaining it: “Time to dust the knick knacks again” or “Oh no, the microwave has busted and I’ll have to take it in” or “Better drop off this giant pile of ‘dry-clean only’ clothes at the cleaners.” I have enough to do in a day and I’d rather spend my free time on activities I enjoy rather than on chores.
I can do without a lot of stuff and prefer to. I own few knick knacks. I have no microwave. I wear non-dry-clean-only clothes, thanks in part to a job that enables me to choose a simple, small and comfortable wardrobe. But even if I wanted to (I don’t) and did (I can’t) whittle down my possessions to a Gandhian number—he owned fewer than 10 upon his death—and I move to a nudist colony (no clothes to wash does sound appealing), I still must eat.
Speaking of Gandhi…
You may have occasion to possess or use material things, but the secret of life lies in never missing them. — Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
2. Everyone eats
We need a World War II type of citizen response to climate change if we hope to mitigate its worst effects. That means, among other solutions, bringing back kitchen efficiency, planting victory gardens and cultivating basic skills that we’ve nearly lost in a only a few generations. If the bottomless pit of bad news about the environment has left you feeling helpless, you can take a positive step right now—choose the next meal you’ll eat today with sustainability in mind. Eat lower on the food chain. Choose local ingredients that traveled fewer miles to get to you. Don’t waste food.
3. Food waste must end
By now, you’ve likely heard the stats on food waste from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC):
Producing food in the US:
- Accounts for 10 percent of the total energy budget
- Uses 50 percent of land
- Accounts for 80 percent of all freshwater consumed
Amount of food wasted:
- 40 percent of food produced in the US goes uneaten
- That translates to 20 pounds per person, per month
- We toss $165 billion worth of food per year
- This food waste squanders 25 percent of all freshwater, in addition to chemicals, energy and land
- Once it rots in landfill, that wasted food accounts for nearly 25 percent of the methane emitted in the US, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide
- 1 in 6 Americans is food insecure
- A mere 15 percent of this wasted food could feed 25 million Americans every year
This is madness.
4. Food packaging creates obscene amounts of waste
Much single-use packaging comes from food and food-like substances—plastic liners in cereal boxes, plastic drink pouches, Starbucks coffee cups and plastic lids, plastic soda and water bottles, plastic chip bags, take-out containers. I can’t find exact figures on food packaging waste, only figures on municipal solid waste. Food companies, knowing they would ignite outrage and much-deserved vilification, do not disclose how much packaging garbage they produce and leave for us, the consumer, to clean up and pay for. So you have to use your imagination bit. I will help you…
Picture an all-too-common diet filled with processed food: frozen, ready-to-toast waffles for breakfast topped with dark brown GMO corn syrup and washed down with a cup of coffee brewed through the Keurig; for lunch, some take-out fettuccine served up in a plastic to-go container and, for your convenience, with plastic cutlery tossed in to boot; and for dinner, how about a frozen entree you boil in its convenient, possibly BPA-free-but-not-free-of-something-just-as-nasty plastic pouch? Don’t forget snacks. Top the menu off with a chemical-laden bag of microwave popcorn. Don’t even try at this point. And have a shot or two of whiskey to cheer yourself up over the fact that you’ve eaten this way today. Go for those little plastic mini bar type bottles.
To eliminate packaging waste, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables—whole foods—and meals that you prepare yourself (unless you have a personal chef to prepare them for you). Real food doesn’t come in shiny plastic packages emblazoned with marketing lingo. And you—or that personal chef of yours—don’t have to cook anything elaborate in order to enjoy delicious, healthy dishes.
5. We can’t feed ourselves
When I read this headline earlier this week, my head almost exploded: “Blue Apron Bulls See Meal Kits Sweeping The Nation, Put Amazon Out Of Mind.” Please God no.
Are we this useless? Have our basic life skills deteriorated to the point where we now need pre-portioned sizes of every little ingredient necessary to assemble—not exactly cook—every meal delivered directly to our door? Did the meal kit company founders not see the movie WALL-E and recognize the future depicted in it as a dystopian one?
When I argue for cooking more, I hear counter-arguments such as, “But some people work two jobs and don’t have time to cook dinner and can’t afford to eat anything but the cheap processed stuff available in the food desert where they live.” While I agree with that, Blue Apron and other meal kit companies like it do not target that market. Americans spend about $4 on average for a meal they cook at home. Blue Apron costs double that.
Hungry? How about some pesto salmon for dinner? Go online, make your selection and wait not-too-patiently for your cardboard box filled with little plastic packets of pre-measured basil, cheese, nuts, garlic and oil, tucked in with pre-portioned salmon kept chilled with a wasteful cooler pack that can’t be recycled—all shipped to your home like an edible LEGO kit. Blue Apron alone, just one of many meal kit companies, sells 8 million kits per month. That both generates piles of trash and burns excessive amounts fossil fuels in order to transport all of those individual boxes of individually portioned ingredients to their individual end users. Our addiction to convenience might be our undoing.
And now Amazon has begun its limited entry into the meal kit market. Maybe I will grab a shot of that whiskey…