THE WAY WE produce, consume, and discard food no longer is sustainable. That much is clear from the recently released United Nations climate change report, which warns that we must rethink how we produce our food--and quickly--to avoid the most-devastating impacts of global food production, including massive deforestation, staggering biodiversity loss, and accelerating climate change.
While it is not often recognized, the food industry is an enormous driver of climate change, and our current global food system is pushing our natural world to the breaking point. "The food system as a whole --which includes food production and processing, transport, retail consumption, loss, and waste--is currently responsible for up to one-third of our global greenhouse gas emissions," says report co-chair Eduardo Calvo Buendia.
So, while most of us have been focusing on the energy and transportation sectors in the climate change fight, we cannot ignore the role that our food production has on cutting emissions and curbing climate change. By addressing food waste and emissions from animal agriculture, we can start to tackle this problem.
Livestock production is a leading culprit--driving deforestation, degrading our water quality, and increasing air pollution. In fact, animal agriculture has such an enormous impact on the environment that, if every American reduced their meat consumption by just 10%--about six ounces per week--we would save approximately 7.8 trillion gallons of water. That is more than all the water in Lake Champlain. We also would produce 49,000,000,000 less pounds of carbon dioxide every year--the equivalent of planting 1,000,000,000 carbon-absorbing trees.
What is more, to the injury from unsustainable food production we add the insult of extraordinary levels of food waste: nearly one-third of all food produced globally ends up in our garbage cans and then landfills. We are throwing away one trillion dollars worth of food, or about half of Africa's gross domestic product, every single year. At our current rates, if food waste were a country, it would be the world's third-largest carbon emitter after the U.S. and China.
To ensure global food security and sustainable food practices in an ever-growing world, we need to reexamine our food systems and take regional resources--such as land and water availability, as well as local economies and culture--into account. To start, the U.S. and other developed countries must encourage food companies...