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High-carbon hamburgers: How food choices affect your carbon footprint

Photo Town Crier File PhotoThis delicious-looking hamburger is just as bad for your figure as it is for the environment. On the other hand, it would be a waste of the energy expended to raise, transport and cook the meat not to eat it.

I’m a foodie. After relocating to California, I decided to become a “locavore,” purchasing as many local products as possible. But, truth be told, drinking California wines, eating locally grown foods and shopping at the Los Altos Farmers’ Market is no sacrifice. We have a growing season and array of local delicacies like no other.

Because the food system is estimated to account for approximately one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, I joined GreenTown Los Altos and signed on to the low-carbon challenge, committing to making lifestyle choices that lower my household’s carbon footprint. I put my money where my mouth is, or so I thought.

Then I discovered Bon Appetit Management Company’s “Low-Carbon Diet.” From a strict carbon-dioxide standpoint, buying locally is not the only important factor in lowering carbon impact. It’s the types of food you eat – such as meat and dairy versus vegetables – and the amount of food you waste that influence your carbon footprint the most.

A low-carbon diet can minimize greenhouse gas emissions that come from all the stages in the food chain: production, processing, packaging, transportation, preparation and waste of what you buy, eat and throw away.

Bon Appetit’s top five low-carbon diet tips

• You bought it, you eat it. When you waste food, you waste the energy used to grow, transport and cook it. In landfills, food waste releases methane gas, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

• Make “seasonal and regional” your new food mantra. Foods in season in your region are generally lower in carbon. Don’t buy produce grown in a hothouse warmed by nonrenewable energy, even if the grower is close to home.

• Move away from beef and cheese. Livestock production accounts for 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Consider reducing portions and decreasing the number of times you eat these items each week.

• Stop flying fish. Don’t buy air-freighted food. For seafood and out-of-season produce, “fresh” often means air-flown, which is 10 times more emission-intensive than container-ship delivery.

• If it’s processed and packaged, skip it. It takes energy to produce junk foods, most juices and even veggie burgers. Choose local fresh fruit, nuts and other alternatives instead.

Now, I’m not only a California locavore foodie, I know how to choose foods that help protect the environment.

What can I do to help?

• Sign the low-carbon challenge. Visit www.greentownlosaltos.org/drupal/pledge-actions• Calculate your own diet carbon with Bon Appetit’s calculator. Visit www.eatlowcarbon.org.

• Join GreenTown Los Altos. Visit www.greentownlosaltos.org.

• Attend the Green Ribbon Cafes to help shape the future of the community.

For more information, visit www.greentownlosaltos.org/drupal/events.

 

Peg Champion is an environmental communicator, project manager and member of the GreenTown Los Altos leadership team.

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