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ABOVE: Youth celebrate their harvest of garlic, which they will sell at a local farmers' market. They're becoming more food-literate, learning about stewardship, and boosting local food security in programs from the Vancouver-based non-profit Fresh Roots. Photo courtesy of

Greetings to high school students from around B.C. who attended my workshop Food and Environment: What's the Connection, so What's to Eat?  It was great seeing you at the UBC campus on Fri. Feb 24, as part of the inaugural Independent Schools Association of British Columbia Youth Environmental Conference.  Your comments and questions were excellent.  Thanks for being so interested in food issues.  

Here are some key points I made:  

When we think about what's causing climate change, we think "fossil fuels" ― coal, oil, and gas.  And those are responsible for most of human-made greenhouse gases (GHGs).  But food ― as we produce and consume it today ― also creates significant emissions, especially the powerful GHGs called methane and nitrous oxide.  

In "food systems" ― which include farming, food processing, getting food to consumers, what we choose to eat, and how we handle waste ― the two main problems for climate are too much meat, and too much waste.   

Let's talk first about meat:  For the environment, there's nothing wrong with livestock animals ― in small numbers that are appropriate to the local ecosystem, such as a pasture or a small farm. (And for health, there's nothing wrong with small amounts of animal-source foods like meat, dairy products, eggs, and fish.) But today our societies crank out huge amounts of meat and dairy from giant factories using methods that are not only unkind to the animals, but also pump out pollution and GHGs. Buildings packed full of animals require enormous amounts of feedstuffs (the production of which uses much of the planet's land) and emit way more manure than can serve as good local fertilizer.  But our societies can do better. We can produce meat in small amounts and in ways that use less land and create fewer emissions, and that are kinder to the animals.  

Then there's food waste:  We know that throwing away perfectly good greens, meal leftovers, and imperfect fruits and vegetables is wrong when there are hungry people in the world, including in our midst. In industrial food systems, there's a lot of waste, including from constant transport of food to far-flung places. In our homes as well, we all occasionally throw away food.  But we as individuals can do better.  We can be more careful how much we buy, prepare, and put on our plates.  

There are many ways we can eat more sustainably, starting immediately. Here's a list of points made in key scientific studies. Those studies show that a "sustainable diet" is not going to be the same all over the world. But sustainable diets generally include:     

  • more plant-based food,   
  • more in-season food,   
  • less meat,     
  • more locally produced food,   
  • less processed food, and
  • much less food waste. 

To eat more sustainably we'll also:     

  • cut down on packaging, opting for foods not wrapped in loads of plastic     
  • buy 'ugly' vegetables and fruits rather than insisting on 'perfection'     
  • cook in ways that save gas or electricity, e.g. put a lid on the saucepan!  

Food activism is everywhere.  As we're saying, food is often an environmental problem ― but absolutely can be a solution. That's why we see so many community groups rallying to solve food problems. They're teaching food-gardening and food-preparation skills to youth. They're working with governments on ways to lower prices for healthy foods. They're campaigning against intensive methods of meat production, and in favour of consumers eating less animal-based proteins like beef, and more plant-based proteins like lentils and so many more.  They're asking their schools and workplaces to make plant-based options available and plant-forward eating the default.

Please contact me any time with comments, questions, or just to connect. If you're considering a school research project and would like to bounce around some research ideas, please contact me if I can help.  I love helping students become excited and knowledgeable about good food. Reach me at or text me at 604.230.2561.

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