By Kit Canright

Buy less. Eat less meat. Use what you have.

These three rules, if widely followed, could substantially reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

    Of the 100 solutions in Paul Hawken’s book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, eliminating food waste and switching to a plant-rich diet rank third and fourth in carbon-cutting effectiveness. Better yet, they’re steps we personally can take. 

Reduce food waste  

    One-third of the food raised in the United States goes to waste, mostly after it gets to market, thrown away by stores or in our homes. (By contrast, in developing countries most waste occurs before food gets to market, due to infrastructure issues.) So how can we reduce our food waste at home?  

  • Buy less. Be realistic about what you’ll actually use. (And buy a smaller refrigerator next time.)
  • Keep a list on the fridge door of foods that need to be used.  
  • Plan the week’s meals ahead. If your plans change, freeze what you can and eat the perishables.  
  • Freeze extra quantities. Think beyond baked goods: even a half-can of tomato paste can be frozen in dollops on a pan, then bagged. 
  • Use as much of each food as you can. Many vegetable skins are edible (carrots, potatoes, some squashes), containing both nutrients and fiber. Radish tops are delicious in salads or stir-fried. 
  • Compost what’s left, either in your own bin or through organics recycling. Take vegetable and animal scraps, including bones, to Ramsey County’s Pierce Butler yard waste site or the 24-hour organics bin by the Humane Society on Beulah Lane off of Jessamine Ave.

Eat a plant-rich diet  

    Beef has a massive footprint: a weekly five-ounce steak, over the course of a year, adds 736 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. By contrast, equivalent servings of beans would generate just 6.6 pounds of carbon. Look at it this way: Substituting beans for weekly steaks is equivalent to saving 38 gallons of gas annually. But even switching from beef to chicken (141 pounds) or pork (150 pounds) is a big carbon savings. (Data from a 2017 Washington Post article  based on work at the University of Minnesota.)

    So, do we all need to go vegan, live in solar-heated yurts, and walk to school through the snow in our Birkenstocks? No, but we can be more mindful. Use meat sparingly, mostly as a condiment: Try roasted cauliflower tossed with sautéed bacon and rosemary, served over whole grains. When you do cook meat, use all of it. Simmer leftover chicken bones and skin with chopped onions, carrots, and celery for a couple hours. Voilà! A rich broth that beats anything you can buy at the store—intense flavor without any salt. Bonus: dogs love the carrots from the broth! 

    During World War II, the government promoted victory gardens and waste-free habits to meet a war goal. We have a new battle today. If we all do our part, we can have a major impact. 

Kit Canright coordinates sustainable food projects for Transition Town ASAP and serves as a section leader for the St. Anthony Park Community Garden. She is also a math teacher and choral singer.  


The “Food-print” Pyramid: In a switch from the USDA food pyramid, this one shows the ecological impact of our food choices. Foods lower on this pyramid burn less fossil fuel in growing and distribution, use less water, and employ more sustainable agricultural practices (the earth’s ability to regenerate resources and absorb emissions). Post this guide in your kitchen and consider carbon when choosing what to eat. 

Graphic by Pat Thompson, adapted from the Double Pyramid, created by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition. Go to TransitionASAP.org for citations and an extended version of this column.

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