Okay, so this is a tough one. Food is so personal and we have very strong feelings about what we eat. But consider this: on average, Americans make 200+ food-related decisions every day. Turns out that feeding us is very energy intensive, eating up about 16% of total use. And while other industries get more efficient, the same can’t be said for food production. The USDA says households are one of the biggest energy users in this food chain. But some changes in the way we buy, prepare and eat food can turn us from the biggest user ☹ to the biggest loser ☺.
What may come as a shock is that, according to the USDA, 25% of our food purchases are wasted in our homes. Think about your own kitchen – veggies going bad in the crisper? Leftovers in the trash? Expired cans and boxes in the pantry? Now think of all the kitchens across the country with the same unnecessary food waste – it really adds up. Every time you go to the market, make dinner, eat a snack, or pick up a sandwich and chips at lunch, you’re making an energy choice.
Every time you toss a rotten banana or apple into the garbage, or pour a half-drunk can of soda down the drain, you’re making an energy choice. Multiply by the entire population and it’s easy to see why it’s so important to avoid the bad choices and consider moving toward a diet and lifestyle that’s healthier for you and the planet.
We recognize that food decisions are complicated. There’s taste and nutritional value. Cost is a factor. And personal preference is a factor. Qualities that are rightfully important to some – like opting for local or organic produce – may not be totally in line with the desire to consume less energy. For example, contrary to conventional wisdom, a large industrial farm may actually be able to produce corn more efficiently than a local organic farmer (which is, of course, separate from the question of which ear of corn tastes better and has been treated with fewer pesticides).
So take our recommendations with a pinch of salt. (Pun intended!) The overall goal here is to kick the food habits that we know are junk and adopt new ones that are more nourishing. Sometimes that means skipping meat on Mondays; sometimes that means getting creative in your kitchen when you realize you forgot to buy an ingredient, instead of driving all the way back to the store; sometimes using a good old fashioned knife instead of something electric.
Whatever it means for you, the important thing is to be mindful of the food decisions you make each day. Start by playing around with our diet and energy widget to learn more, read the easy tips below, and go with what makes sense for you and your household. And if you want to see the energy costs of your current diet check out our Diet and Energy widget. Then use Watt-IS/Watt-IF to compare the energy costs of your current diet with other food choices. And you’ll be happy to know that generally, what’s good for our bodies is also good for the planet.
- Waste less. If you’re like us, you’re blown away by the USDA estimate that a whopping 25% of the food purchased at the market goes to waste in our homes. So do something about it. Take special care not to buy more produce than you will use, since fresh fruit and veggies, which are fragile, perishable and require special handling, are relatively energy intensive. Reduce waste, save energy – and save your money, too. And if you can, compost rather than trash leftover food.
- Drive less. Don’t get distracted by the buzz over “food miles.” Less than 15% of the energy used to make food goes to transportation (the other 85% goes to growing produce, production and keeping food fresh or frozen in retail stores). Here’s what we should be buzzing about: consumers use more energy driving to and from grocery stores than the entire food industry does to deliver food. Why? The industry has an efficient delivery system with large truckloads. Consumers tend to drive empty cars to pick up a few bags at a time. So get more efficient by consolidating shopping trips. Make a long list before you go. Organize shopping trips with friends and neighbors, especially to the big box stores where you can buy and share. And remember, in many big cities, the fuel for home delivery is usually pedal power and not gasoline. And if you run out of an ingredient, don’t make a special trip - consider it an opportunity to hone your chef skills and experiment in the kitchen.
- Go meatless (or at least consider eating less beef). This is a big one. Animals (especially cows) leave a long trail of methane gas from their digestive process, and the production of their feedstock uses a lot of fossil fuel energy, so reducing beef consumption cuts down significantly on CO2 emissions. As an added bonus, many studies show it’s healthy to eat less meat, especially red meat. Join the Meatless Monday movement or decide to save that steak for one special night a week instead of making it an everyday meal.