SALT LAKE CITY — Animal agriculture is responsible for 35 percent of the methane, a greenhouse gas that is harmful to the ozone, that is emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere, according to Salt Lake City Green, an environmental group with Salt Lake City’s Department of Sustainability. Even more alarming, Americans currently throw away 40 billion pounds of food every year, which equates to 40 percent of all food being thrown away.
With April 22 celebrated as Earth Day, the Salt Lake City Sustainability Department is encouraging Utahns to be conscious about what food they eat, where it comes from and how much of it gets wasted.
“Food choices are a significant way that people can exercise their personal choice and have an impact on our environment,” Sophia Nicholas, communications manager for the Sustainability Department, told KSL.com. “And that’s something that we very much want to encourage this Earth Day and really all throughout the year.”
Nicholas had a number of tips and suggestions to help Utahns “be more cognizant of the choices they make with food that can make a big impact.”
The first piece of advice Nicholas has for Utahns is to choose a day of the week to not consume any meat or dairy. If all Americans skipped eating meat and cheese one day a week and replaced their diet with a plant-based protein, it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off of the road, according to the Salt Lake City Sustainability Department website.
Nicholas encouraged Utahns to adopt something similar to “Meatless Monday,” which is a global “movement to organize awareness around the impact that food has on our climate and our environment,” she said.
There are health benefits to cutting back on meat and dairy as well, Nicholas added. “And of course your pocketbooks (benefit) because meat is expensive,” Nicholas said.
People who are interested in cutting meat out of their diets can find a variety of vegetarian, vegan and Meatless Monday recipes online, Nicholas said. “There’s a lot of delicious recipes that they can choose from.”
Choosing local foods
Choosing to buy local foods, joining a community garden or visiting local farmers markets are all ways Utahns can fight pollution caused by food production and consumption. Buying local food “greatly reduces the transportation emissions related with the food you eat,” Nicholas said.
Another possibility is to grow your own food.
“If people are interested in starting a garden, this is the perfect time to start planning and shopping for that,” Nicholas said.
Cutting back on food waste
As mentioned earlier, about 40 percent of the total food supply in the U.S. gets thrown away, “which is just a staggering number, if you think about it,” Nicholas said.
She said it pains her to think about the energy and emissions that go into growing, harvesting and packaging that food “only to have it be thrown away.”
“There’s also the impact of throwing food away into the garbage because as food rots it actually produces methane, which is a really potent greenhouse gas,” she said.
Right now, Salt Lake City is working to cut back on food waste in the city and county by “educating people about shopping for less food or eating leftovers or choosing the ugly-looking produce, that there might not be anything wrong with, so that it doesn’t get thrown away at the grocery store.”
“And then, of course, being mindful of portion sizes and things like that,” she added.
The last piece of advice Nicholas had for Utahns who want to decrease food pollution is to get involved, like volunteering with a local environmental or food organization.
Nicholas gave the example of Food Rescue U.S., a national nonprofit “committed to ending American food insecurity by directly transferring fresh, usable food that would have otherwise been thrown away” from grocery stores and restaurants, according to Food Rescue U.S.’s website.
Nicholas noted that Food Rescue U.S. recently started a chapter in Salt Lake City. “So that’s a really cool program and way that people can get involved.”
Another easy way to cut back on food waste and emissions is to start a compost bin. This diverts food waste and can “turn it into something that is useful” for lawns and gardens “rather than having it rot and produce all this methane in the landfills.”
Nicholas stressed that even small actions can make a difference.