How do our food choices impact climate change?
Nothing brings humans together quite like food. All across the globe, we work for, search for, and gather around our tables for the enjoyment of food. But too many people struggle with food insecurity, lack of adequate nutrition, disrupted harvests, lower yields, and famine – all exacerbated by climate change. Rising temperatures leave crops shriveled from the heat, while intensified natural disasters flood entire agricultural regions. We’re left with a choice: do we accept these fates or work together to build resilient solutions to food, hunger and agriculture challenges?
Ukrainian agriculture supplies a massive amount of food to the world. Ten percent of the world’s wheat, fifteen percent of the world’s corn, and thirteen percent of the world’s barley is exported from the war-torn country. Without these crucial food supplies, prices for basic foods are skyrocketing, and as a result, people are starving. To make matters worse, in July of this year, Russia’s decision to pull out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative has imperiled tens of millions of people who rely on grain imports. Each second that Russia’s blockade stays in place, more lives face the risk of starvation. To mediate this grim situation, the United Nations, NATO, and the European Commission are convening to broker a new agreement that would allow Ukraine to continue exporting supplies. Additionally, the US government has pledged $250 million to support Ukrainian agriculture. Our current food crisis is dire, but there is hope. By helping to mitigate the risks of climate change and consuming more eco-friendly foods, we can build resilience into our global food system.
Yet, no single investment is enough. In order to address the food crises of today and tomorrow, we must look at the entire food system. Our current food system requires industrial agriculture to surpass global demand. Industrial agriculture consists of highly concentrated and mechanized processes that rely on fertilizers and toxic chemicals, which damage natural resources at unprecedented scale. This damage includes the loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, water pollution, and one of the highest greenhouse gas emission rates of any industry. Industrial agriculture is responsible for emitting more greenhouse gasses than all cars, trucks, trains and airplanes combined, according to National Geographic.
“When we think about threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and smokestacks, not dinner. But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet.”
– Jonathan Foley, environmental scientist, sustainability expert, author, and Executive Director, Project Drawdown
In comparison, sustainable agriculture yields organic products grown without chemical additives, pesticides or genetic modification. Organic agricultural standards can and should be applied to plant and animal products alike, which too often have detrimental effects on animal welfare, the environment, and human health. Organic pioneers, like our partner Nature’s Path, grow food in ways that ensure the nourishment of communities and preservation of life. A study published in the journal, Environmental Health, has shown a strong correlation between those who eat organic foods and lower risks of major illnesses like cancer, heart disease, and stroke. For more research on the benefits of organic, check out the Organic Center, a trusted organization dedicated to scientific reporting on organic agriculture and food.
Another form of sustainable agriculture is regenerative organic agriculture. This allows farmers to produce healthier soils by removing carbon from the atmosphere and locking it into soil (carbon sequestration) where it can nourish crops and rather than warm our planet. Many techniques, including crop rotation and agroforestry, have been used for centuries by Indigenous peoples. In conservation crop rotation, instead of planting the same crop every year, farmers rotate crops to increase organic matter and nutrients in the soil, while also limiting pests, improving air and water quality, and increasing plant pollination. No-till agriculture is also a piece of the puzzle. Tills break up soil to rid weeds and air from the ground, but can also strip away necessary nutrients. By not tilling, soil remains undisturbed, which improves plant health, air quality, and conserves the non-renewable resource of soil itself. If implemented worldwide, these practices have the potential to sequester dozens of metric tons of carbon per year. Our partner, Rodale Institute, has conducted research on regenerative organic agriculture to help sow seeds of knowledge for future farmers.
When advocating for sustainable agriculture, we need to keep in mind that not everyone is affected in the same way. Environmental protections need to go hand in hand with equitable access. Currently, the negative effects of chemical-laden conventional foods disproportionately affect minority communities, who live with limited access to fresh and healthy food. This is known as food apartheid, a problem that must be combated by proactively creating food sovereignty through community-driven solutions and systemic change.
One way Turning Green takes a proactive stand for food justice is through our Conscious Kitchen program and its commitment to food equity, access, and education. Conscious Kitchen has been serving fresh, local, organic, seasonal, nutritious (FLOSN), and low-waste meals to students since 2013. This program created the first organic public school meal program in the country, beginning with one historically-marginalized school, where 95% of students qualify for government-subsidized school meals. By partnering with schools and communities to shift the paradigm around food access, replacing pre-packaged and processed food with fresh and organic ingredients for school meals, and building out robust organic farm-to-school supply chains, Conscious Kitchen supports local organic farmers and benefits student health, climate justice, and local economies.
If you’re feeling hungry after all this talk about delicious and sustainable food, check out these great FLOSN recipes.
A FLOSN diet is often thought to be more expensive and out of reach for students and the general population, but that is not necessarily the case. Buying seasonally, in bulk, and at farmers markets are great ways to protect human and farm worker health, support local economies, mitigate climate impact, reduce ecological footprints, and save money.
Get informed with these resources for ECO-nomical shopping:
Take note of practical ways to incorporate more FLOSN foods on a budget. As one example, consider the fruits and vegetables you commonly buy. Where do they land on EWG Shopper’s Guide? How can you decide which to buy organic?
Using these questions as a foundation, make your own list of tips for shopping organic. We want you to use this when you shop, so keep it simple: just a checklist of 5 to 10 brief bullets. Maybe you can even write them down on paper or a reusable bag. Share a creative visual of your checklist for organic on Instagram, tagging @TurningGreenOrg, @NaturesPathOrganic and @OrganicCenter in the image and caption, as well as #PGC2023.
Upload a PDF Document with your list and a screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, and school on your upload.
Even when you know about the benefits of eating fresh, local, organic foods, incorporating them into meals is not always possible because of access, distance from farmers markets or organic grocers, price, and other barriers.
Now choose one action from the articles or outline one on your own! Share a comprehensive plan of how you plan to integrate it into your own life with two concrete steps you will take to address these issues where you live or go to school.
Upload a PDF Document with your responses and a screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, and school on your upload to be eligible to win.
With your newfound food knowledge, it’s now time to test your culinary skills! Using the FLOSN criteria as a guide, prepare a meal for you and your housemates or family. Our Conscious Kitchen Cookbook has great inspiration, but feel free to choose any recipe and use as many organic ingredients as possible.
Prepare your recipe with as many FLOSN ingredients as possible, while keeping your meal under $4 per person — to create a delicious organic and budget-friendly meal. Include an entree, vegetable, and side dish.
Upload a PDF Document with your responses (recipe, meal preparation, and reflection) and a screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, and school on your upload to be eligible to win.
Up to 10 Greener and 10 Greenest outstanding submissions will be selected as winners.
Each Greener Winner will receive:
Each Greenest Winner will receive: