The Role of Our Food Systems in Climate Change

In a recent post, we talked about sustainable food: what it is, why it’s important, and how it relates to Life to Table. Food systems, including agriculture, play a significant role in contributing to global warming—perhaps contributing between 19% and 29% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Growing food requires energy, but most of the fuel that drives our modern food system comes from fossil fuels.

Farmers have always struggled through the vagaries of weather; floors, droughts, heat waves, hailstorms, late frosts, and windstorms have plagued farmers for centuries. However, increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to unpredictable weather events and greater variability in temperatures. This means farmers have had to develop strategies in light of the changing climate. Unfortunately, those strategies often include technology that implicates fossil fuels. This simply perpetuates the problem.

Industrial agriculture is another culprit in our global, unsustainable food systems. This is the dominant food production system in the United States, and it is characterized by large-scale monoculture, heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and meat production in confined animal feeding operations. In addition to releasing harmful chemicals into the world, industrial agriculture is often seen as inhumane. It both further damages our climate and physically hurts and tortures the animals we consume.

Industrial agriculture and monoculture are significant contributors to global warming, but evading their reach seems impossible. These food systems provide cheap, widely-available food, and many of us cannot afford to consistently spend more money on our meals. However, the current system is only working to further damage our health and our earth.

This is why sites and movements like Life to Table are important. Rather than imposing strict guidelines on individuals and their eating and purchasing habits, we aim to begin the conversation of shifting toward a more sustainable and meaningful lifestyle. The first steps are the hardest, but adjustment and habit-changing always takes time. The big-name supermarket might be cheaper but opting for a locally-sourced meat or vegetable has long-term personal and global benefits. Start small; instead of purchasing your pantry at the local farmer’s market, buy locally-sourced eggs once each week. Change starts with individuals taking individual actions. Take yours now.