As college students, it can be difficult to determine how our food is made and where it comes from. However, something to think about, something we Cobbers ought to take with us when we graduate, is that food production has an environmental impact — some foods far more than others. Given the increasing population and that humans require food to stay alive, ought to consider the environmental and social aspects inherent to food production. Consideration of these aspects is critical for ensuring the continued well-being of the greater good and of ourselves.
The Oxford Martin School, a branch of the University of Oxford that specializes in research regarding global change, found that sustainable eating habits have low environmental impact. The environmental impact of an eating habit is measured through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and land use. The less the GHG emissions and the less intense the land use, the more sustainable the eating habit is. Foods typically included in a sustainable eating habit include minimally processed tubers, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, with animal products eaten sparingly. A sustainable eating pattern has been found to lead to better nutrition, though naturally there are trade-offs and exceptions, depending on the individual. However, generally speaking, the lower the consumption of fish, dairy and meat, the lower the GHG and land use impact. It is worth noting that fish, dairy and meat contain vital micronutrients; thus, if the consumption of animal products were decreased, people’s diets would have to be supplemented with healthier and more diverse plant-based options.
Our global problem is more complex than it initially seems. The University of Copenhagen Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security found that food production was responsible for 29 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. With a population estimated at 9 to 10 billion by 2050 and decreasing resources, it will be imperative to change our eating habits quickly. Population growth means that not only animal products are harming the environment; foods that might be considered sustainable are not as sustainable as we originally thought. Climate change is slowly affecting farmers, who have less successful crop yields as a result. Consistently lower crop yields affect humans on a basic and dangerous level, and these lower crop yields already affect developing countries, which often are more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. A global hunger crisis, driven both by great population growth and climate change, puts great weight on farmers’ shoulders to produce more than ever.
Farmers must adapt to these challenges, but those in developing countries often lack the resources or the opportunities to learn more advanced farming techniques, techniques that would be of great benefit to the developing world. It is increasingly unsustainable to feed great masses of livestock. Not only is it expensive, but we could also feed many times the people with the food used to sustain livestock if we cut down on animal product consumption. For the greater good, developed countries have an obligation to assist farmers in developing countries and to eat more sustainably because they can afford to.
Changes in conventional farming practices might seem drastic at first, but humans will have to adapt to a more sustainable eating pattern if we wish to continue surviving and preserve the earth for future generations.
Sarah Liebig is a senior studying English Writing and Global Studies: Worlds in Dialogue. Liebig’s principal interests lie in social justice and environmental concerns. Upon graduation, she intends to study law. Liebig is originally from Lincoln, NE and is the only child of two soil scientists. She shares permanent residence with two cats, Oscar and Ophelia.