The start of a new year comes with a list of resolutions, some of which can be pretty lofty. But making a big difference doesn’t always have to be hard.
Take eating for example. Eco-conscious eating is way easier than making other changes, like how you commute, and can make an even bigger impact. If that weren’t reason enough, it tends to be better for your health and your wallet, too.
So here are seven ways to make a big difference with small changes.
1. Meatless Monday
The one single factor in our diets that contributes the most to our carbon footprint is meat. Those who eat a lot have double the carbon footprint of those who are vegan. Animals, and livestock, in particular, require a lot more resources like water and grain to raise and process than, say, a head of lettuce.
But skipping meat for a single day or two isn’t hard, and there are a plethora of recipes for really delicious meatless meals. How does sweet potato gnocchi sound? Or spicy peanut noodles with satay tofu and crunchy vegetables?
With just a little bit of planning at the grocery store, you can expand your culinary horizons while helping out the environment at the same time.
2. Smaller Portions Of Meat
Expand your eco-friendly eating to the other six days of the week by just cutting down your portion size for each meal. You’ll also end up eating fewer calories since meat is calorie-dense.
Additionally, you’ll eat more fruits and vegetables to make up for the smaller portion of meat, which improves the nutritional value of your meals.
Buying smaller portions of meat also means that you’ll have extra money to spend on healthier, organic, free-range varieties, which is better for both you and the environment.
3. Opt For Pork Or Chicken
Beef and lamb have the biggest carbon footprint of any livestock – a whopping 39.2 kg of carbon dioxide to produce a single kg of lamb, and 27 kg to produce the same amount of beef. That’s because they’re ruminants, which produce methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, as part of their digestion.
Compare that with the footprint of pork and chicken – 12.1 kg and 6.9 kg, respectively. For a single meal of beef, you could have about four meals with chicken and have roughly the same environmental impact.
Go forth and satisfy that steak craving every once in a while, but if you’re on the fence about what’s for dinner, reach for something other than beef or lamb.
4. Or Choose Sustainable Seafood
Wild-caught or sustainably farmed fish can have an even lower carbon footprint, averaging 5.4 kg of carbon per pound of fish, depending on the type of fish and the methods used.
Shellfish such as oysters and mussels are even better. Not only do they inherently have low carbon footprints, but they also sequester both carbon and nitrogen in their shells.
Nitrogen gets released into the environment from man-made fertilizer, and not only disrupts natural ecosystems but is also a greenhouse gas that’s 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
5. Less Processed And Less Packaged Mean Less Guilt
Whenever possible, buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat. The more your food gets processed, the more resources it takes to get to your plate, and the more likely it is to produce harmful waste.
Ever seen the long ingredient list on the label of canned soups? Each ingredient is produced separately, shipped to a factory, processed with the other ingredients, and then repacked and distributed across the country – for an average total distance of 1,300 miles!
Packaging uses a lot of resources, too. Opt for loose produce that isn’t individually cut or wrapped. What grocery stores keep in stock depends on what customers are buying, so every purchase makes a difference.
6. Get It Locally & Seasonally
Better yet, get your meat and produce directly from your local farmer’s market. Not only is everything direct from the farm, but you’ll also find seasonal produce that tastes better than anything you’ll find at the store.
There are also more interesting varieties of staple ingredients. Try some purple carrots or a beautiful, fractal head of green romanesco.
Shopping at the farmer’s market ensures that you’re eliminating as many transport touchpoints as possible between you and your next meal.
7. Buy Only What You’ll Eat
Last but not least, try eliminating food waste. The carbon emitted by all the food wasted globally makes it the third highest contributor to greenhouse gases, after the U.S. and China.
A lot of the waste happens in between harvesting and processing, but you can eliminate waste at home by buying fewer groceries, freezing your leftovers, or better yet, sharing a meal with friends!