What you need to know: 4 Reasons for Why What We Eat Affects the Environment

We're glad you're curious! Climate change is a pressing issue today -- so much so that many brand it "the climate crisis." As it should be. The links between the food we eat and how those choices affect the environment run deep. Overall, industrialized farming practices cost the environment some $3 trillion per year, according to Trucost. To put that in perspective -- the environmental cost is more than the UK’s annual GDP (!!). 

What are the major issues with the way we eat today, and how does what we eat affect the environment? We break it down into four main issues (note that yes, there are many more than four...)

1. Land use - half of our habitable land on Earth is used for livestock and farming, which is a major threat to biodiversity. Remember the Amazon fires? Of course, you do. Much of what was to blame was the amount of rainforest that had been cleared for agriculture. 

Seventy percent of biodiversity loss is driven by agricultural expansion, and 94% of our world’s animals (excluding us) are livestock. If that doesn’t shock you, you need to re-read that sentence. Emissions from land-use change and deforestation are one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain. Livestock, not surprisingly, is the biggest contributor here. You heard right, manure management (and ahem, cow farts) are two big emitters. 

2. Resource use - we use 70% of the world’s fresh water for farming. That’s a huge one. But on top of it, we use petroleum to transport our food, fertilizers to grow our food, and energy to process our food - all of this adds up.

3. Pollution - 78% of freshwater and ocean pollution is caused by agriculture, mainly the use of fertilizers, livestock manure and pesticides. Not only are we polluting our waterways, but we’re polluting our air, our land, animals, and people. Antibiotics used in agriculture spread harmful resistant bacteria throughout our system - and it’s estimated the average American might have 43 toxic pesticides found in their bloodstream.

4. Waste - When we waste food, we waste everything that goes into growing our food, as well as causing additional greenhouse gases to be released in the atmosphere. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the United States and China. 

Our food system's global impact. Source: Our World in Data.

If food, as we've explored, is part of the problem -- it also must be part of the solution. 

Want to learn more?

More about food waste 

How you can you fight food waste at home

Sources mentioned:

  • Trucost
  • NRDC
  • World Wildlife Fund
  • FAO
  • Our World in Data