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Feeding the Carbon Friendly Family

by Kimberly Christensen

Kimberly and family at CoolMom event Who does the grocery shopping in your house? I’m putting my money on you! Which gives you a great opportunity to start fighting global warming with your shopping cart and your fork. The great thing about introducing your family to a low carbon diet is that it has so many benefits beyond its environmental impact. By doings things like eating locally grown foods, choosing organics and eating lower on the food chain you can also save money, increase the number of nutritious foods your children eat, and protect your children from pesticides.

But first, let’s talk about food and climate change.

The process of getting food to our table can be extremely carbon intensive, from petroleum-based fertilizers used to grow our grains and vegetables, to foods shipped from half way around the world, to rainforests cut down in order to graze the cattle that are turned into happy meals.

But these things will only continue to happen if people continue to purchase food grown and raised that way. By making different choices when you fill up your fridge, you will create less demand for those kinds of food, and more demand for foods that are healthy for both your family and the planet.

There are three main ways to choose planet and people friendly foods:

  • Eat organic foods whenever possible
  • Eat lower on the food chain
  • Grow or purchase local foods
  • *For bonus points, you can compost your food waste and complete the cycle!

    And for additional reading and resources check out our Food resources list.

    How to mitigate global warming with your fork!

    Eat organic foods: Organic farming practices are extremely important for animal products as well as for produce. Eat organic eggs and dairy as often as you can, along with your organic fruits, veggies and grains.

    Why: Organic foods are foods that are grown without using pesticides to kill insects and without artificial fertilizers, many of which are petroleum based. Organic farmers use natural solutions like creating healthy plants through composting, and fighting pests with insect predators like ladybugs. Because organic farms do not use petroleum-based fertilizers, these chemicals do not have to be produced nor shipped to the farm, often from countries across the ocean. Compost from plant debris and animal manure can often be provided by the farm for its own use. It’s a self-sustaining practice!

    Organic farming practices also cause less disruption to the soil, which allows carbon and other nutrients to remain sequestered in the soil. According to the U.N., organic farms produce 2/3-1/3 fewer greenhouse gases as conventional farming.

    Therefore, if you feed your family organic foods, your kids will be exposed to fewer pesticides and fewer greenhouse gases will be produced. It’s win-win situation! But wait, there’s more! Recent studies have shown that many organic fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients than conventionally grown produce. You and your kids will get more vitamins and minerals per serving as well.

    How to get it done: You can find organic foods at many supermarkets, as well as specialty natural foods stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, your local co-op grocery store and farmer’s markets. If you don’t see it, ask for it! Consumer interest is what has led many stores to start carrying organic foods.

    If you find that completely switching to organics is too expensive, you can follow the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” Clean Fifteen shopping list. This handy guide will help you identify which foods are particularly full of pesticides and which foods contain safer levels. They also have a nifty iPhone app that can be pretty handy here.

    Making the change with kids: This is one of the easiest food changes to make because you are not buying different foods, just foods that are raised differently. So you can make this change and your kids will never even notice!

    Eat lower on the food chain: When we’re talking global warming, we don’t hear as much about meat. But when it comes to producing greenhouse gases, meat is about as dirty as it gets. Choose to eat less of it!

    pigsWhy: The meat industry produces 1/5 of the world’s greenhouse gases. There are lots of reasons why:

  • Farts! Methane, a powerful, greenhouse gas is released through animal farts. Imagine each of the 10 billion animals killed in the U.S. for food each year farting!
  • Poop! 10 million animals produce a lot of poop. If this poop isn’t dealt with properly, for example, composted with sufficient oxygen, it rots. Rotting (an anaerobic process) produce lots of methane.
  • Organics! Most animals are not fed organic food, so all of the corn and other grains grown to feed them are contributing to climate change. (see “organic” section above)
  • Trucks! Large, carbon dioxide producing trucks are used often in meat production, from the transporting of animals to slaughterhouses to trucking meat around in refrigerated trucks.
  • Chain saws! Clearing forest land, including rainforests like the Amazon rainforest, to make room for grazing cattle releases carbon dioxide into the air and also prevents trees from sequestering carbon (because now the trees are gone).
  • In terms of climate change, large-scale factory farming is meat production at its worst. Factory-farmed meat is what you buy at most grocery stores, all fast food restaurants, and most dine-in restaurants. Dine wisely.

    Small-scale, local, organic farms provide an opportunity for farmers to both produce the food that feeds their animals (organically) and also a place to use the waste that the animals produce.

    How to get it done: We can’t eat as much meat as we are accustomed to and have it produced on a small and local scale. A 3-pronged approach to changing our diet can help us address this important contributor to climate change:

      • Eat less meat. You can find vegetarian options at restaurants, supermarkets that cater to meatless cooking, and bookstores and websites that supply vegetarian cookbooks.
      • Eat lower on the food chain: While no meat-containing meal is as carbon-friendly as a vegetarian meal, smaller animals require less energy to raise. Consider adding more poultry and fish to your diet and reducing the amount of beef, lamb, goat and pork that you eat.
      • When you do eat meat, make it sustainably-raised meat. Ask for sustainably-raised meat at local natural foods stores, farmer’s markets, and restaurants.


    Making the change with kids: Think of all the meals that you currently eat that are meatless or could easily be: Lasagna, spaghetti, risotto, stir-fry, burritos, pizza, mac n’cheese, breakfast for dinner, etc. Use them as a starting place and branch out. Also, try some of the “fake” meats, like Morningstar breakfast sausages or imitation chicken nuggets. Your children may not notice the difference. Try out Meatless Mondays, as a fun way to get your family on board.

    Grow or purchase local foods: Growing your food can be a fun way to get your entire family involved in reducing your food miles.

    Bowl of Harvested VeggiesWhy: It is estimated that the average American meal travels 1500 miles from farm to plate.  Supporting local farmers not only reduces gasoline use on travel, it enables you to choose food made on a smaller scale rather than huge corporate farms, and supports your local economy.


    How to get it done: There are many fun ways to increase the amount of locally grown foods in your diet.

  • Shop at the farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets are also great places for kids, with brightly colored, interesting foods and often entertainment as well.
  • Use a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  This is when you pay a farm directly for weekly deliveries of fruits and veggies to your home or neighborhood.
  • Shop at a co-op or supermarket where local foods are labeled.
  • Visit a u-pick farm.

    Making the change with kids: Start a garden with your children.

      • Children are more likely to eat your food if they’ve helped you grow your food, pick it, chop it up and serve it.
      • Choose an edible garden over decorative plants or grass in your yard or squeeze plants between your already existing landscape.
      • Use containers. Lots of plants, like tomatoes, basil and peppers, grow easily in pots.
      • If you don’t have space, try a community garden. Don't have a community garden in your neighborhood? Organize one with your neighbors and friends.

    *Extra bonus tip. Composting: When thrown in the landfill, organic matter, like meat and veggies scraps, rots anaerobically (without oxygen) and produces large quantities of methane, a green house gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Proper composting of food scraps can both dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produces and give you a fine source of compost for your home garden.

    Making the change with kids:

  • If you’ve got a little space, home composting is easy and cost-effective. You can build a bin yourself or buy a premade one from your local waste management or garden store. Toss your scraps in the compost bin instead of the trash, and you will be shocked at how much space you end up with in your trash can! Plus, you end up with rich nutrients for your garden.
  • Worm bins are really fun for kids, and can be housed indoors if you don’t have space in your yard. As they convert your food waste to compost, your worms can also work as a life science experiment for your family! Plans for home-made standard and worm compost bins are available here.
  • In some areas, you can put food scraps into your yard waste bin. Check with your local waste collector to see if you can do this and what types of food scraps they will collect.
  • Food Resources

    Food, environment and health
    Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. There is also a young reader’s version if you want to get your kids thinking!
    In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
    Diet for a Hot Planet by Anna Lappe


    Vegetarian Cookbooks
    The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas
    The Meatlover’s Meatless Cookbook by Kim O’Donnel
    Cook’s Illustrated A Year in A Vegetarian Kitchen: Easy Seasonal Dishes for Family and Friends by Jack Bishop
    Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home by the Moosewood Collective
    The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes that Will Change the Way You Cook by Tal Ronnen

    Organic Gardening
    Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening by Fern Marshall Bradley
    Maritime Northwest Garden Guide available through Seattle Tilth
    Your Farm in the City by Lisa Taylor
    Worm Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof
    How to’s for building and maintaining compost bins

    Food Inc
    The Future of Food

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