Stonington resident tries to eat with the climate in mind
Stonington ―Pay attention while driving along Briar Patch Road, and you'll spy a food donation bin. Doug Rice set it outside his driveway to collect food for the New London Community Meal Center years ago.
"I have a bin at the top of our driveway for donations. I wanted to make it easier for people to donate if they have a bag of extra groceries and didn't want to drive to New London," Rice said.
Since semi-retiring and moving to southeastern Connecticut six years ago, the artist has cooked at the center two days a week, helping to prepare the 175 to 200 hot and nutritious meals that are prepared while also working to secure the ingredients he and other volunteers use to create those meals. Over the years, in addition to the driveway donation bin, Rice has forged connections with local restaurants and farms, getting many to donate food to the center regularly.
Creating those connections was a natural extension of Rice's own eating philosophy.
"I don't think of myself as a model of sustainability. I travel regionally for shows and to visit my mom and my daughter and due to my travel, my carbon footprint is higher than it could be, but I really try to get food local," Rice said. "I owned a construction company and as a builder, I wanted to see how everything was made so I went to the quarries and the factories. Now that I cook at the New London Community Meal Center I'm the same way with the food, I went to see how it's made."
It's no secret that food production significantly contributes to climate change. The most recent and comprehensive look at the food system's overall role in the climate crisis suggests that the global food system is responsible for a third of all yearly global greenhouse gas emissions. The analysis, which includes not just agriculture but also packaging, transportation, and even agriculture-driven deforestation, was compiled by experts from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York University, and Columbia University and published in Environmental Research Letters.
On an individual level, according to numerous studies on U.S. households, food accounts for anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of a household's total carbon footprint. Eating with the planet in mind is one of the most impactful things a person can do to mitigate the climate crisis. And no, you don't have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but you probably should eat less red meat and consider where it's coming from.
Knowing your food
Rice likes to see how the food he consumes is made, visiting local farms, orchards, oyster and kelp farms, and even seeing how meat is processed.
"I get grass-fed meat locally from JW Beef“ in Stonington, said Rice, who is in the middle of working on a series of paintings on meat. "I went to his meat processing place as part of learning about where our food comes from, and I'm trying to educate people on it through my art."
According to the April 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the scientific group that monitors and assesses the science of climate change, adopting a diet rich in grains, vegetables, and nuts, with moderate amounts of poultry and fish could have nearly as low of a carbon footprint as a vegetarian or vegan diet.
While Rice gets much of his fruit and vegetables from local community-supported agriculture programs and farmers' markets, he also grows blackberries, blueberries, sweet potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes, jalapenos, and more in multiple gardens at his home. Rice has also planted about 20 trees around his property.
Growing your food, no matter how small the garden, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels because that produce is walked to your kitchen instead of driven and doesn't require any plastic packaging. Gardening also provides hands-on lessons in resilience and adaptation, useful skills for living in a changing climate and is a way to reconnect with food and appreciate the people who regularly produce it. Plus, a myriad of studies show that people who garden eat more vegetables.
Gardening also tends to make people more aware of food waste. After all, when you see the work that goes into growing a potato, you don't want it to end up in the trash. According to the United Nations, a third of all food produced each year ends up in the trash. It would be easy to think the vast majority of this wasted food happens in restaurants, grocery stores, or even on farms, but in reality, the single largest source of food waste is residential homes. All that food waste is responsible for at least 6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
When he has surplus produce, dried or canned goods, Rice tries to donate it to the New London Community Meal Center or the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center.
No matter how well-prepared anyone is, though, there will still be some food waste. Rice composts what he can as another tool for reducing emissions. That's because composting is an aerobic process and does not produce methane, a greenhouse gas that organic materials emit when they decompose in oxygen-starved landfills. And then he can use that compost in the gardens, where he estimates in the past year he grew about a pound of potatoes and ended up with so many hot peppers that he gave away 36 pints of them.
"It's not a huge thing,“ he said, ”but it's trying to live the best life we can.“
5 tips for eating climate-friendly food
1. The most impactful single dietary change most can make to reduce the carbon footprint of their food is to reduce their meat and dairy consumption. Can you eat vegetarian one day a week? What about three? Or be a weekday vegetarian?
2. Eat a wide variety of foods. While some of us could happily eat salmon almost every day, when we choose to eat a variety of foods, we create demand for greater diversity of crops and are less reliant on a few ingredients helping to promote and preserve agricultural biodiversity.
3. Eat fewer ready-to-eat items. Do you know how the fresh, better-for-you food is typically on the outer perimeter of the supermarket? It's the same with better for the planet food. The less processed food you eat, whether ready-to-eat items, snacks or frozen meals, the lower your carbon footprint.
4. Reduce your food waste. Shop your fridge and pantry before going to the store or supermarket. Meal planning can also help to reduce food waste and composting can lower the carbon emissions of any wasted food.
5. Shop local. Buying local food when you can reduces food miles, which, while a small part of food emissions are still emissions. Plus, buying local helps the local economy and promotes biodiversity.
What changes - big or small - have you made to reduce your carbon footprint? Post in the comments of this article on theday.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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