By: Melanie Yin

Typical discussions about the environment tend to talk a lot about how terrible cars are for the environment, but we don’t talk a whole lot about food. However, the transportation sector makes up 14 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, while food makes up a third of all emissions. Here are some tips to reduce your impact.

1. Eat less red meat and cheese

The production of red meat causes four times more greenhouse gas emissions than an equivalent amount of chicken or fish on average. Per kilogram of food:

  • Beef is estimated to produce 15 to 32.3 kilograms of CO2
  • Cheese produces 8.8 kilograms of CO2
  • Chicken produces 4.6 to 6.7 kilograms of CO2
  • Mayonnaise produces 2.0 kilograms of CO2
  • Fruits and veggies produces approximately 0.1 to 3.3 kilograms of CO2

As you can see, beef and cheese are by far the worst offenders. This is mostly because milk-bearing animals emit a lot of methane. All the wastes excreted by cows and other byproducts in the industry significantly impact our environment.

2. But don’t become anemic

If you choose to reduce your red meat consumption, an important note to consider is that cutting down on meat can lead to a lack of iron and protein and potentially cause anemia. However, it can be easy to compensate with tofu, pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils and nuts. Some plant proteins don’t have all the essential amino acids, so be sure to have a good mix of foods to get everything your body needs.

3. Air Fr(e)ight

Anything flown, even for a short distance, has a larger carbon footprint than food that is transported on land. Fresh fish that isn’t local is often air-freighted. For example, salmon that is flown in an airplane from British Columbia to be labeled fresh on your restaurant table 48 hours later is much worse for the environment than flash-frozen salmon that is transported by truck. Furthermore, fresh fish and properly stored frozen fish are indistinguishable in taste.

4. Sometimes buy local

While it is true that transporting food is costly for the environment, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s not much you can grow efficiently in Ontario in the winter months. If you’re buying local tomatoes in the middle of the winter, the only explanation is that it was grown in a greenhouse. Heating up greenhouses is more costly for the environment than some methods of shipment from a warmer climate. That’s why it’s important to buy local, but also seasonal.

In Ontario in the winter, your best bets for local fresh foods with lower environmental impact are beets, carrots, cabbage, parsnips, mushrooms, potatoes and squash. The Hamilton Farmers’ Market, downtown at James and York, is only a 20-minute bus ride from campus and features excellent local food with a 4.5 star average rating on Google reviews. Mac Bread Bin also has you covered with a monthly box of fresh, local and seasonal produce you can pick up each month on campus for $12.

Keep in mind that while buying local is a decent rule of thumb, actual carbon output can vary wildly. For example, a Lincoln University study found that because of differences in their pastures and farming processes, New Zealand raised lamb imported to the UK had a lighter carbon footprint, 688 kilograms per tonne, than UK-raised lamb, 2,849 kilograms per tonne.

If you’re buying out of season fruits, consider buying them frozen. Freezing fruits when they’re in season is much better for the environment than growing them out of season as the latter requires more fertilizers and greenhouses. Furthermore, frozen fruits are often cheaper and the freezing process helps retain nutritional value.

5. Stop throwing food out

Seeing MUSC trashcans overflowing with half eaten Pizza Pizza never ceases to leave me horrified. About 40 per cent of food in Canada each year is thrown out. Not only is the food itself lost, but the energy and water spent transporting and growing the foods is wasted. Overripe fruits can be made into smoothies and mushy bananas can be baked into bread.

If you’re at a restaurant and don’t finish your food, get a takeout container and bring it home. The environmental damage from the wasted food far outweighs the environmental damage from the container. McMaster’s green container program is a good first step for local takeaway habits. $5 gets you reusable eco-takeout containers for life on campus.

Remember, eating low carbon isn’t like diet plans that are all or nothing. When thinking about going greener, small changes to your diet can have a big impact.


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