Food and Climate Change: What Are Students Saying?

581777By guest blogger Eva Malis, University of California, Berkeley (photo of Berkeley Student Food Coop from www.berkeley.edu)

As the urgency of the climate dilemma looms over us like a swiftly approaching storm cloud, more people are desperately searching for easy solutions. And there are many of them—a whole world of creative solutions, all with debatable impacts. Food especially has become a hot topic.

According to a 2006 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, farmed animals globally contribute more to climate change than all of the transportation sector, but then the FAO retracted that comparison. Yet in 2009, environmental specialists employed by two other UN specialized agencies, the World Bank and International Finance Corporation, estimated that at least 51% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to livestock. As more information on our world’s food system is revealed to the public, it appears that changing our diets could be the number one solution.

Is it necessary to become entirely vegan to have the largest possible impact?  To many, the word “vegan” can be an immediate turn-off, with an extremist connotation that gives off the impression that it is too difficult of a lifestyle.

However, as food has become more integrated into environmentalism, a steady increase has occurred in numbers of vegans over the years, and ways to make veganism easier. A Vegetarian Resource Group study reported that 2.5% of the U.S. population followed a vegan diet, increasing from 1% in 2009. Personally, I have found that those who learn enough about where food truly comes from commonly find it too difficult to eat conventionally.

“I see more people becoming aware of how their food choice impacts the communities and world around them,” said Grace Lihn, Communications Director of the Berkeley Student Food Collective. “The food movement is indeed growing, and branching off in many new directions.”

Some, however, have been looking at the problem in a different perspective.

“I think that the most impactful change a person can make to his/her lifestyle is to begin to question it,” said Ben Galindo, a Community Engaged Learning Teaching Assistant at Southwestern University Garden. “Veganism is a great example of this; however, my preferred change in consumption is ‘freeganism,’ due to the fact that it is anti-consumerist in nature.”

Both Galindo and Lihn were hesitant to put all their faith into one solution such as change of diet.

“There’s no silver bullet or quick fix to an unsustainable lifestyle,” said Galindo. “These behavioral changes often instill a sense of complacency towards other important individual acts and this can negatively affect one’s goal of personal sustainability.  So in short, I fully support these changes in diet as long as they accompany other long-lasting changes in mindset and thinking.”

A related perspective came from Lihn: “A change in diet as a personal response to environmental and/or food-related issues sends a powerful message to yourself and those around you. But I think it’s also important that you keep in mind what your body’s needs are and that you know exactly why you made the decision to change your diet.”

Other than flat out veganism, there are many options for instigating change in this precarious system. We can divert our support for unsustainable food systems by buying local, reducing meat consumption, and ensuring our food comes from responsible producers. Apart from changing our diets, and focusing on shrinking our negative impacts, we can think forward and aim to increase our positive impacts. We can plant gardens, spread ideas, engage in conversation, and take active roles in advocating change for our problematic system.

“Food issues are inherently political and social issues. We need better leaders (and I see many up and coming), better policies, more community-based decision-making, and ultimately more local awareness and education programs,” said Lihn.

In a world full of problems and solutions, it is clear that we need to continue to question our goals and impacts. We must analyze every decision in order to maximize progress, and keep the creative ideas flowing.

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