Foodprints for the Future

Make a food choice for the planet on World Food Day

In honor of World Food Day, an annual celebration of the establishment of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), I invite us all to reflect upon our dietary choices and how they contribute to a sustainable world food system.

The FAO works toward the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, such as Zero Hunger, Climate Action and Responsible Consumption and Production. These high-level goals are not separate from the U.S. food system, nor from our eating choices. In other words, we can and do make a difference, by what we say and what we do, including what we eat.

Climate change and agriculture are deeply connected. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report this summer that called for a major shift in our food system. According to the report, about 23% of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture, forestry and other land uses.

In the U.S., the industrialized livestock and dairy sectors drive deforestation and these greenhouse gas emissions, which fuel climate change. Higher greenhouse gas emissions accelerate the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as prolonged droughts or devastating floods. Such disruptive events take a major toll on our agricultural system, causing an endless and destructive loop.

Earlier this year, floods ravaged several midwestern and southern states, the metaphoric heart of American agriculture. Heavy rains made for a disappointingly wet planting season, delaying crop and cattle shipments, depressing prices and creating other shortcomings. As one might expect, this hurt local economies and the greater farm economy, which is already struggling.

This type of breakdown is likely to become more prevalent as the world warms, which will threaten food security and create more global hunger. Such a pattern works against achieving global Sustainable Development Goals. Amid this gloomy outlook, we must remember, however, we still have alternatives and reasons to be hopeful.

Our food choices cast a vote for and against agricultural practices. To curb our carbon emissions, we can choose to eliminate waste and reduce our meat and dairy consumption, opting for plant-based alternatives. Earth Day Network’s Foodprints for the Future campaign advocates for a food system based upon a greater availability of nutritious, delicious and climate-friendly food.

Luckily, there has never been a better time to try to eat more plant-based foods. The market for vegan products has exploded and even the world’s biggest meat companies are capitalizing on this, pushing out their own plant-based products. According to John Pauley, Smithfield’s chief commercial officer, the company would “be foolish not to pay attention” to this shift.

The Foodprints campaign offers a variety of resources that can help you lower your “foodprint.” On World Food Day, consider choosing at least one plant-based meal instead of meat, and think about how you can make your diet more climate-friendly.