Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We are how we eat

How big is your food carbon footprint? Did you know red meat and dairy products are responsible for 48 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions coming from the agricultural sector? And it might be a better choice to buy tomato paste made from locally grown tomatoes than fresh tomatoes flown to your supermarket from overseas.

As public health professionals help shine a spotlight on the health effects of climate change, the food supply should be another concern, said presenters at the “Climate Change: Will There be Food?” Annual Meeting session. Rising sea levels, more frequent floods and harsher hurricanes are already impacting the U.S. agricultural system. At the same time, many traditional farming and food distribution practices are upping greenhouse gas emissions and leading to adverse effects.

What’s needed? Not only should individuals aim for a plant-based diet and overall lowered consumption (i.e., don’t drive across town to buy highly processed foods), but public health professionals should devote more research into the climate change-food supply puzzle.

“We simply don’t know enough about how to adapt our food systems in this changing world,” said Molly Anderson, a food systems consultant. “We need far more research.”

The issue is a veritable cornucopia. There’s consumption, production, equitable food distribution and the need to rethink the way food is grown, sold and used locally and globally. Creative multitasking — such as creating urban edge “AgParks” that provide land access for small farmers and parkland for fresh food, recreation and education to local communities — can lead to a better overall agricultural picture while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more about it in “Think Globally, Eat Locally: San Francisco Foodshed Assessment,” the University of California-Davis Agriculture Sustainability Institute’s Low Carbon Diet plan and “Cooking up a Storm — Food, Greenhouse Game Emissions and Our Changing Climate” from the Food Climate Research Network.

— D.C.

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