By John Fischer

Growing and eating food are two of my favorite pastimes. Avoiding waste and consuming with climate impacts in mind are not far behind. The food choices you make can significantly affect your effect on the planet and our climate. I’ve created a 12-step program with songs and videos, but you’ll be done after only five steps — that means you’re halfway there already.

  1. Finish your food. And don’t buy (and waste) food if you are not going to eat it. Throwing away the last few french fries or carrots on your plate, or worse yet, a third of a hamburger, means all the energy to grow, prepare, transport, and cook the food has been wasted. Food rotting in a landfill also produces the potent greenhouse gas methane, which is 80 times worse than CO2 in the short-term. And, 40% (yes, 40!) of food produced in the U.S. is thrown away rather than eaten, mostly after being purchased, with higher-impact foods like meat topping the list. People are rightly scared of eating spoiled meat, so if you buy it, cook and eat it tonight. Half of the fish bought is thrown away. The solution here is simple. Join the “Clean Plate Club.” My song and video will make you want to leave the table with a clean plate — or maybe just leave the room:
  1. Eat less meat, especially beef and lamb. I didn’t say none, although I am close to not eating any myself (my sons-in-law like meat). Use meat as an ingredient rather than the main dish. If you want a slab, have a smaller slab, savor every bite, and make it into a special occasion (like when the sons-in-law come over). A beefy diet has nearly twice the climate impact of a non-beef diet. Grass-fed beef is worse for the planet because the cattle take longer to reach maturity while still releasing methane. Chicken, fish, and pork have 1/10th the emissions of beef. Go vegetarian and you reduce the impact another 20%. Go vegan and slice off another 20%.
  2. Eat less dairy. Emissions per pound of cheese are 1/3 of beef, and portions of cheese, milk, and yogurt tend to be smaller than beef. But it still comes from a cow. Soft cheeses like mozzarella, brie, and cottage cheese have less impact than aged cheeses because they don’t require long-term refrigerated aging. Vegetable-based “cheeses” have improved. Even half veggie cheese on a pizza will cut the climate impact by almost 50%. There are lots of amazing dairy-free frozen desserts that taste like ice cream (or better).
  3. Eat globally. Meals from other countries often rely on legumes and spices to create a tasty, high-protein dish. Because the production of fruits, nuts, and vegetables has about 1/50th the impact of beef, and 1/10th of even chicken and pork, you can eat more vegan meals with less damage.
  4. Shop locally. Packaging and transport do affect the climate, but the impact is tiny compared to production footprints unless air transport is involved. Bananas brought in by boat, grain shipped by train, and even tomatoes transported by truck don’t have a transport impact even close to the production impact. Yes, local food is usually better for the planet, and has many economic benefits as well, but eating all the food is far more important. Of course, the ultimate local food source is your own yard.

Ready to start singing?

Okay, everybody, Join the clean plate club

All you have to do is finish your grub.

If you eat what’s on your plate,

What a difference you can make.

So join the clean plate club. Hey!