Summer's longer sun-filled days lead to visions of leisurely outdoor dinners and weekend picnics. This is a time we savor fresh fruits and barbeque and indulge in a wide variety of seasonal delights from watermelons to corn on the cob.
However with the price of food skyrocketing, many Americans are wondering how to pay for some of those foods they have been looking forward to during the cold winter months. Sadly, the price of gas has restricted how and where we travel, and that same commodity, oil, is behind the sticker shock we're enduring at our supermarkets these days. With the massive increase in the use of artificial, oil-based fertilizers, it's a fact that we no longer grow many of our crops in soil but rather in oil. Since 2000, fertilizer costs have risen 228%.
That's not the only way the price of oil affects food prices. The average food product travels around 1,500 miles to reach market, and the high cost of transportation gets passed directly to the food purchaser. Moreover, the food industry spends upwards of $66.5 million per year on packaging alone, much of it petroleum-based plastic that costs consumers even more and wastes precious fuel. The huge amount of fuel needed to produce our conventional foods doesn't just hurt our pocketbooks it also causes massive environmental harm. Overall food production and distribution systems contribute up to 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Making the right food choices can help reduce this impact. While avoiding processed and overly-packaged foods is a good first step, there is more that consumers can do to save money while cooling the planet this summer. Buying organic, locally grown, and whole foods; purchasing sustainable seafood; and decreasing meat and dairy consumption are among the healthiest things we can do for our bodies. Local foods in particular take less fuel to transport, process and grow, and add up to big greenhouse gas savings for the environment while in many cases putting more money in your wallet.
One of the most effective ways consumers can save money and reduce greenhouse gasses is to limit consumption of conventionally raised meat. Livestock takes longer to mature than poultry or fish, and relies heavily on grain and corn feed. Petroleum inputs (fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and gasoline to power farm equipment, transport, and processing) needed to produce conventional animal feed drive up meat prices, and will only become more expensive with runaway fuel prices.
Combined with increased concerns over the effect of injected growth hormones and antibiotics on human health, conventionally raised meat is looking less and less attractive. Grass-fed, antibiotic-free, local and organic beef, pork, and lamb are now more competitively priced than ever and offer healthier, cooler alternatives. People already tend to cut back on meat during the sun-saturated days of June, July and August; this can also make a huge difference for the environment.
Next time you cook out, choose fruits or vegetables over one serving of meat - easy to do during summer months when these are abundant and fresh; you will prevent more than a pound of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere. Eating local produce isn't just trendy- it will save 1/3 of a pound of greenhouse emissions per serving over conventional produce. Better yet, think organic: if Americans dedicated just 10 percent of their diets to organic foods, we would save 2.9 billion barrels of oil per year.
Summer is the time to eat "cool foods". Farmers markets and farm stands are offering a profusion of fresh and delicious seasonal foods, from fruit and vegetables to organically grown meats and fresh fish in certain areas. Backyard gardens are perhaps the best way to eat "cool", with the freshest possible food traveling only a few yards to reach your plate. Locally grown summer foods like these also taste best since they are fresh and picked at peak ripeness. Foods out of season, transported long distances using massive amounts of fossil fuels and chemically treated to survive the trip, simply don't make sense.
Change doesn't have to be difficult. Summer offers a chance to make change work for us. By eating the foods that make the season enjoyable, we can use this time to seriously consider how much better locally grown and organic foods are, not only in taste and price, but because they are the right choice for decreasing greenhouse gases and helping to cool the planet. Change doesn't have to hurt. In fact, it can taste delicious.