Celebrate Earth Day, Starting in the Kitchen
Just a few changes to how you purchase food, cook it, and dine out can help mitigate climate changeKatherine Miller
April 19, 2019
James Beard Foundation vice president of Impact Katherine Miller celebrates Earth Day by offering small steps everyone can take to help mitigate climate change, from saying "no thank you" to straws to reducing food waste through scrap-saavy cooking.
Happy Earth Day! Here’s to healthier people, healthier communities, and a healthier planet.
April is often a time for renewal, so it’s fitting that on April 22 each year we celebrate Earth Day. This day, a global moment where we all can stop and take stock of our natural surroundings, is also increasingly a time when we’re reminded that the clock is ticking on how to preserve and protect our planet. Wendell Berry once wrote: “The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”
His words ring especially true when we start to consider the potential impact that extreme weather events and major shifts in season temperatures could have on our agriculture and food systems. From apple orchards in New York to cattle farms in Washington state, olive tree fields in Italy, and coffee growers in Costa Rica, climate change is already affecting growing seasons, the health of fisheries, the availability of finite resources such as water, and more. Combine these challenges with the continued growth in global population—the United Nations’ expect it to hit ten billion people by 2050—and it is easy to wonder how we’re going to balance it all.
How exactly can we protect the planet, support vibrant communities, and feed everyone? The questions are truly daunting, and the answers are somewhat mired in misconceptions and controversy.
Yet we have to act. Even the smallest steps will help mitigate climate change, drive new economic models, and encourage new ways of thinking. A few steps we can all take include:
- Give up straws. Americans use millions of plastic straws every day. For some people, straws are useful and even necessary tools to get through the day. But most of us probably don’t need the single straw we’re given with a drink at the bar or in a restaurant. Plastic isn’t biodegradable, and typically ends up in the oceans where it can kill fish and mammals. A whale recently died with more than 80 pounds of plastic, including straws, in its stomach. So if you don’t need one, skip the straw.
- Think before you eat. The data and science about diets can be just as overwhelming as information about climate change. Take a few minutes to sort through the information and find ways that you can build better environmental practices into your diet. Eat meat? Consider looking for farmers and ranchers closer to where you live. Love fruits and vegetables? Check out your local farmers’ markets and consider shopping seasonally. Interested in introducing more seafood onto the menu? Again, think locally and seasonally and consider diversifying your choices to support high-quality farmed seafood.
- Reduce, reclaim, and repurpose. Reducing the amount of food we waste—whether at home or out on the town—is really important. So reduce what you buy in stores or at the market, and go for a smaller portion when dining out. If you have leftovers, repurpose them another day for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And if you’re looking for ways to use all those stalks and stems, check out our cookbook, Waste Not for recipes and tips on how to get the most of your food.
These small steps, by themselves, won’t help prevent more catastrophic weather events. But if we all do one or more of them every day, the cumulative effect could be huge.
Here at the James Beard Foundation, we’re doing all of these things, and a few more, to help combat climate change and ensure that the next generations have access to delicious and nutritious food. Learn about our efforts to reduce food waste, our sustainable meat initiative the Blended Burger Project, and to find out which restaurants are leading on sustainable seafood, check out our Smart Catch program. We’re also supporting students who are studying climate change–related topics such as regenerative agriculture and food systems through our scholarship program. Applications are open until May 15, so apply now.
Together, our individual efforts can add up to big change.
For more information about our Impact programs, please visit jamesbeard.org/impact.
Katherine Miller is vice president of Impact at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Twitter.