Of Foodprints and Climate: Local Response to Global Problem

Of Foodprints and Climate: Local Response to Global Problem

Food, climate: It's all connected....

So, what’s a foodprint? And what’s its significance today? New York City foodprint resolution introduced today, June 30th. See news item for details on Wednesday, July 1st press conference at New York City Hall. Foodprint (n): our food system’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change. Why a foodprint resolution? And why in New York City? New York City has approved a number of directives to reduce global warming and encourage environmental awareness. But none addresses the enormous role food and agriculture has in accelerating or mitigating climate change. Globally, some 30% of GHG emissions come from the fossil fuel-based agricultural system ‘from pesticides and fertilizer production to how food is produced, processed, packaged, transported, stored and disposed.

Food and farming are key factors in climate change, and by addressing their impacts, the City can better achieve its established goals for reducing GHG emissions while improving the environmental, health and economic needs of New Yorkers. City Council passage of a global warming “foodprint” resolution is a first and crucial step to ensuring our food system better meets these goals. New York City is also a global metropolis, and one of the most diverse places in the world. It’s also a city of eight million people with, collectively, a huge foodprint. So, where better than here to take the lead in addressing the food-climate change link? And, as U.S. President Barack Obama said, reflecting on the passage of landmark climate change and clean energy legislation by the U.S. House of Representatives: “…what this bill signals is that we’re not going to keep on being a prisoner of the past, we’re going to reach for the future.” Reducing “foodprints” is looking to the future.

The foodprint resolution has been drafted over a number of months by a coalition of groups concerned about food justice, local foods, the environment, urban agriculture, animal welfare and healthy eating. Called the New York City Foodprint Alliance, it’s a group that includes, among others, Brighter Green, the Sierra Club NYC Group, Just Food, Farm Sanctuary, East New York Farms, Slow Food USA. In late May, the resolution text was welcomed by Brooklyn City Councilperson and public advocate candidate Bill de Blasio, who agreed to introduce it to the full Council on June 30th–today.

The resolution calls for New York city to create “FoodprintNYC”, a proposed citywide initiative that would establish climate-friendly food policies and programs, financial and technical support, a public awareness campaign regarding the City’s food consumption and production patterns and greater access to local, fresh, healthy food.

Why is such a resolution needed? And what might its impacts be? Here are a few of the tenets that guided the groups crafting the resolution, followed by suggested actions to reduce your and New York City’s “foodprint.”

Production of crops and livestock are responsible for an estimated one-third of all human-caused GHG emissions. The three principal GHGs that result from the food system include the best-known GHG, carbon dioxide (CO2), as well as two other GHGs that are far more potent in their global warming impacts: methane (23 times the global warming impact as CO2) and nitrous oxide (296 times the global warming impact of CO2).

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization calculated that production of plant-based foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds) contributes significantly less to global warming than production of animal-based foods, and that, globally, livestock operations emit 18% of total GHGs, significantly more than the 13.1% emitted by the world’s entire transportation sector. In the U.S., approximately 12% of total GHG emissions per household result from growing, preparing, and shipping food.

New York City’s 8 million residents collectively have an enormous ecological “foodprint” that affects the environment at local, state, and global levels. A low-GHG emissions food system, also known as a “cool foods” system, requires a priority on local, organic production, and encouragement of cool foods diets that have the added value of promoting public health.

Many New Yorkers, especially those who live in low-income neighborhoods or depend on institutions such as schools or city facilities for a majority of their meals, lack access to organic and/or locally-produced foods, particularly fresh vegetables and fruit; and studies indicate that about one-half of New York City children are overweight and therefore at higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cancer, and other chronic health problems often tied to poor diets.

Making more fresh, local and preferably organic plant-based foods available to all City residents could have a significant impact on public health. A growing body of research shows that fruits and vegetables are critical to preventative healthcare, and most people need to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables they currently eat every day and reduce their red meat intake.

Consumption of local produce also supports State small-scale, family farmers and City community gardeners and urban farmers, helps protect rural and urban environments, and requires far fewer fossil fuels than transporting food long distances. A New York City food system that is more focused on local and sustainable production would bring “green jobs” to the City, and protecting our foodshed would improve access of City residents to cool foods by providing a greater market for peri-urban small-scale farmers.

Here are six actions you, as an individual, can take to reduce New York City’s foodprint:

1. Support the Foodprint Legislation

Join the campaign for the Foodprint resolution. Email Mia MacDonald, Ex Com Vice Chair and Executive Director of Brighter Green, a member of the NYC Foodprint Alliance, at macdonald@brightergreen.org

2. Expand Urban Agriculture and Green Jobs

The nearly 20,000 members of NYC’s gardens grow food for their own consumption, their neighbors, emergency food programs, and for sale at market.
• Join and support a community garden or start a community group to launch a new garden in your neighborhood
• Grow your own food in home, yard, windowsills and/or rooftops
• Compost your food waste, and sign the online petition to reinstate the NYC Composting Program, www.gopetition.com/petitions/bring-back-composting-to-nyc.html
• Conduct a community food assessment
• Advocate for increased green jobs and labor rights in food processing, packaging and service work

3. Expand and Protect NYC’s Foodshed

NYC’s foodshed currently provides city residents’largely through Farmers Markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs’offers one of the most direct routes from farm to fridge, avoiding many of the GHG emissions associated with the transport, packaging, and selling of produce and offers healthy, fresh, local, and often organic food at lower prices than many supermarkets.
• Start a CSA in your community, www.justfood.org/csa
• Advocate for labor rights and immigration laws that support local agricultural workers
• Support your local farmer’s market
• Urge your supermarket to “buy local”

4. Reduce or Eliminate Animal Food Consumption

Globally, the US is responsible for the greatest emissions of methane from farm animal manure, nearly 1.9 million tons. Almost 58% of GHGs from food are from meat, poultry, eggs, fish and dairy. A Cornell University study found that food production for a low-fat, plant-based diet would require less than half an acre of New York State land per person each year, while a diet high in fats and meat requires nearly five times as much land, or 2.11 acres per person.
• Reduce or eliminate the amount of animal products in your diet

5. Support Organic Agriculture

Studies have shown that organic agriculture systems emit 48-66% less carbon dioxide per hectare (about 2.5 acres) than conventional farming systems that rely on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic farming methods also often employ methods of soil management that result in the capture, instead of the release, of GHGs, particularly CO2.
• Support local, organic farmers by using our dollars and food stamps at farmers markets and CSAs
• Encourage supermarkets and bodegas to stock fresh, organic foods

6. Manufacturing and Refrigeration

In the US, about 80% of energy used in the food supply system goes for food processing, packaging, storage and distribution to retail stores. Grocery stores, food markets, and convenience stores emit approximately 85 pounds of GHGs per square foot of floor space, and fast food establishments, restaurants, and cafeterias emit about 75 pounds of GHGs per square foot of floor space.
• Reduce or eliminate their purchases of processed foods
• Buy local foods to reduce transport and storage refrigeration emissions, such as by patronizing local farmers’ markets, joining or starting a CSA, or growing their own food in community or home gardens

For more information on food and global warming, and what you can do, please visit the Websites of these members of the NYC Foodprint Alliance: