How our Food Consumption and Management Impact Climate Change

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climate change and food waste

What we eat, how we shop for food, and the amount of food that goes to waste all have a climate impact.

Do you know that in New Zealand alone, each family throws away three shopping trolleys worth of food each year, imagine the amount of waste if we include all countries in the world? The worse thing about food waste is that it releases the heat-trapping gas called methane as it decomposes. Emissions from food waste alone are equivalent to 150 thousand car emission on the road (Jones, 2019).

Food waste accounts for 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions and the United Nations estimates that that 1.3 billion tons of food a year or one-third of the world production goes to waste before it even gets to the table. The sad thing is amidst these food waste, 10.5% of the world population is experiencing hunger and malnutrition, while 26 per cent are obese. Emissions from food waste are contributing to global warming through its greenhouse gas emissions between 2010 to 2016 (A new diet, 2020).

Interestingly, food waste in richer countries like the United States, Europe, China, Japan, and Australia is because of excess or out from their refrigerator. While in poor countries, food waste is due to poor technologies as and infrastructure that fails to gather and store food efficiently, in short even before the food reached to the consumers (A new diet, 2020).

Imagine how much carbon emissions can be reduced by reducing food waste alone.

Reducing our food waste

There are so many materials available online to help us reduce our food waste, from shopping to preparation, to cooking it.

One example is the Easy Choice Family Kai featured in the NZ stuff article. It provides a weekly shopping list, exciting recipes, and tips on how to cook with almost zero waste.

In her article “Cooking differently,” Jones listed some practical ways to avoid food waste:

Eat stalks and skins

For example, when cooking potato cook with the skin. Use the whole cauliflower or broccoli instead of throwing away the stems.

Do it yourself

Plan your meals, cook it yourself, and eat seasonally and locally to ensure that the product is in its best quality and does not have a long mileage to reach your plate.

Storing food correctly can also help them last longer thus avoiding waste

For example, storing bread, fruits, and vegetable in the fridge, and keeping berries in airtight containers can extend their shelf life.

Another practical tip to avoid wastage is to manage your pantry and knowing the expiration or best-by dates

Using your stock before they expire or using what you have to make a meal will help keep a fresh supply in your pantry or fridge and help avoid waste.

The choice of food we eat have climate impacts

Aside from reducing food waste, the choice of the food we eat also have climate impacts. The article “New Diet,” points out what food contributes most and least to climate change.

Top of the list of food that contributes most to climate change is beef.

Because raising cattle uses a lot of lands, burps up methane – a potent heat-trapping gas, and thus is more harmful to the climate.

Second, is butter.

Citing a Finnish study, the article says that butter is the ‘most polluting livestock produce.’ (A new diet, 2020).

You may ask how in the world is butter so polluting? It’s only made from milk, right? Right.

In the article “To Shrink your Carbon Footprint,” Jenny Shalant wrote, “to get a pound of butter, you need 21 pounds of milk”. A 1 to 21 ratio of milk to butter (Shalant, 2017).

And let’s not forget, milk comes from cows. To raise cattle where butter is from, it needs heaps of land, emits lots of methane, and needs to be fed enormous amounts of grass or grains, which needs a lot of fertilisers and pesticides. And of course, fertilisers and pesticides emit CO2 as well.

The third on the list is avocado.

Avocado that is imported that is. And because it is imported, it eats up a lot of mileage before it gets to your dining table, generating huge amounts of CO2.

So, what about food that is climate-friendly

Top on the list is the apple. According to the article, it causes the least emissions. Second, pulses like beans, lentils, peas. And third, mussel and oysters. Because these shellfish filter water they benefit the climate and remove carbon from the environment (A new diet, 2020).

As consumers, we can reduce our carbon footprint by making the right choices of food that we eat. Choosing food that produces the least carbon emissions, growing more sustainable and hardy crops, applying crop rotations, cover and low-maintenance crops, and alternating pasture and crops would benefit the environment.

Another option would be to choose a plant-based diet, or animal products with lower carbon emissions (A new diet, 2020).

Or better yet raising your own herd or poultry for food is the best option.

Ordering our food from the restaurant also have climate impacts. We love a treat once in a while, for some people it could be a regular thing dining out. When choosing what food order consider the following: How long is on the food chain? How much amount of energy is used to produce the food or product? and, is it organic, locally grown, or imported overseas (Food and Climate, 2019).

The lower the food is in the food chain, the less processed, and choosing in season and organically grown food is always better for the environment and for our health.

Opting for climate-friendly food consumption practices is one of the many climate adaptation solutions that we can do as individuals and as a family.

If you would like to read more on the topic or use the sources mentioned in this article, please refer to the following citations:

Jones, Katy (2019, December 23). Cooking differently to help save the planet. NZ Stuff. Retrieved from

A new diet to combat the climate crisis. (2020). IBERDROLA. Food Waste. Retrieved from

Shalant, J. (2017, June 2). To Shrink Your Carbon Footprint, Ease Up on the Dairy. NRDC. Retrieved from

Food and Climate Change (2020). David Suzuki Foundation One nature. Retrieved from

PHOTO CREDIT: By Love Food Hate Waste NZ – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

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