Watch What You Eat

The three most prevalent human-generated greenhouse gases in the U.S are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – a significant portion of which are emitted by the agriculture industry. In fact, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. cattle emit about 5.5 million metric tons of methane per year into the atmosphere, accounting for 20% of U.S. methane emissions.

Sustainable foods are grown, raised, fished and produced using management practices that are safe for the environment, focusing on water conservation, soil health, reduced pesticide use, habitat management and biodiversity protection. Industrial agriculture, on the other hand, uses large amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics, monocropping, genetic engineering, intensive irrigation practices and favors mechanized farming methods that are damaging to the earth. 

Some food for thought from the Sustainable Table and Seafood Watch:

  • Organic farms use as much as one-third less fossil fuels than their conventional counterparts, and can sequester carbon!
  • Irrigation-intensive agricultural diverts 70 percent of the world's available freshwater each year.
  • Producing 2.2 pounds of beef takes enough energy to light a 100 watt bulb for twenty days.
  • It takes 660 gallons of water to produce one hamburger.
  • Scientists estimate that we have removed as much as 90 percent of the large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and cod from the world's oceans.


Locally Grown and Organic Foods

Although the two are often used interchangeably, the phrases "locally-grown" and "organic" mean different things. Organic produce has been grown without the use of pesticides and chemical-based fertilizers that emit nitrous oxide and negatively impact soil and waterways. Buying local produce, meat and dairy products reduces "food miles" or the distance food travels from farm to consumer – on average, 1500-3000 miles. This means the energy needed for transportation, packaging, storing and preparing these products is also significantly reduced. Local food systems also consider the welfare of the animals they raise and tend to focus on sustainable practices, such as minimized pesticide use, no-till agriculture and composting and minimal to no packaging for their farm products.

Find a local farm or farmer’s market near you.


Less Red Meat

The U.S. emits more carbon dioxide (CO2) than any other greenhouse gas, followed by methane (CH4) and then nitrous oxide (N2O). When it comes to potency, however, nitrous oxide tops the list followed by methane and carbon dioxide. The impact of 1 pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is over 300 times that of 1 pound of carbon dioxide, while methane is a mere 20 times more powerful than CO2. Both are inherently linked with the production of beef.

Nitrous oxide is emitted when nitrogen is added to the soil through the use of synthetic fertilizers, a practice used by industrial agriculture in growing crops needed to feed cattle and pigs. In fact, more N2O emissions are associated with growing feed for cattle than crops for people. That’s a lot of feed!! To combat excessive N2O levels, it’s been suggested that we eat less red meat which would reduce the amount of fertilizer used as well as the amount of manure produced, which raises methane levels.

Not ready to give up red meat?  Don’t worry; simply reducing portion sizes and frequency would go a long way – get started by going meatless on Mondays.


Sustainable Seafood

More than 40 percent of the ocean is highly affected by human activities, which makes the sustainable management of fisheries critical to their long-term survival. Over the past five decades, marine ecosystems around the world have been exploited at an alarming rate. Many fish populations that were once plentiful such as Chilean seabass and some species of Atlantic flounder and cod are now in sharp decline as a result of overfishing.

Techniques used to catch or farm some fish can also be problematic. One example is "bycatch," the accidental capture of sea turtles, sea birds and marine mammals associated with the use of large fishing nets and longlines. Another is poor aquaculture practices that destroy and pollute habitat as in the case of many international shrimp farms. Some fish are also likely to contain small amounts of mercury and therefore should not be consumed in large quantities.

The Seafood Watch card is an excellent guide in making sustainable seafood choices that are good for wildlife, the environment and you. Download the card and keep it with you when going to the grocery store or dining out.

For more information on the issues affecting our oceans, efforts to find solutions and more ways you can help, visit the Seafood Watch site.