What’s on Your Dinner Plate?

On Jan. 20, 2022, the Cathance River Education Alliance and Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust hosted a program on the role food systems and food waste play in climate change. Below, you can watch the session (at the bottom of this post), read summary highlights , find resources to learn more, and consider suggestions on what you can do to reduce emissions related to food.

Our guests were:

  • Susanne Lee, Faculty Fellow at Mitchell Center developing sustainable food waste solutions for Maine businesses
  • Nick Whately, Farmer practicing regenerative agriculture
  • Julia Nelson, Gleaning Coordinator for Merrymeeting Gleaners
  • Michael Dennett, Teacher, Farmer, and Agrovoltaics specialist

Highlights of the session include:

  • Facts about our food system:
    • Food waste is 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter after US and China.
    • One-third of food produced is never eaten.
    • Food waste wastes not just the food, but also all the resources used to produce and transport it (water, fuel, fertilizer, etc).
    • Food waste in landfills produce methane gas, which is 28x more damaging than CO2 in terms of climate change.
    • Average family throws out $1800/yr of food.
    • ‘Best-by’ date labeling (started after WW2 to help manufacturers with inventory) has no relevance to food safety and results in lots of wasted food.
    • Untapped potential for food donation could cut hunger by 50%.
    • 40% of Maine’s food is thrown away at a time when Maine leads New England in food insecurity.
  • Regenerative agricultural practices can turn soil into a carbon sink.
    • 50 – 70% of carbon (aka soil fertility) has been removed from soil in the U.S. due to erosion, aggressive tillage, fertilization, and pesticide use.
    • Regenerative agricultural practices remove CO2 from the air and sequester it in soil. Practices include:
      • No-till farming
      • Use of permanent beds and walkways
      • Leaving plant roots in the ground (to decompose and feed the soil)
      • Growing cover crops to feed the soil and soil microbes
      • Aerating soil with broadforks to minimize soil disturbance
      • Planting companion plants to attract pollinators and repel unwanted pests
    • Everyone can be part of the climate solution by supporting sustainable (waste-free) food systems.
    • Agrovoltaics (grazing animals around solar arrays) pairs energy, meat, and wool production. Benefits include:
      • Animal ‘mowing’ eliminates fossil fuel-powered mowing and associated rodent kill
      • Solar arrays provide ideal grazing environment (diversity of grasses, shade)
      • Sheep can go where mowers can’t
      • Grazing improves the soil (manure) and creates habitat (voles, pollinators, etc)
      • Segmented approach to grazing means there’s always habitat available
      • Hay bale grazing in cold months enables farmers to improve poor quality pasture
    • Plant-based diets vs. omnivores
      • Plant-based diets are good for the climate.
      • If you eat meat, eat less, and buy it locally.
      • There is a role for pastured animals in Maine (e.g. soil improvement, grazing around solar arrays)
      • Maine’s poor soils and northern climate are better suited to grass production, making it difficult to produce all our food here.
      • The biggest climate impact of meat, globally, comes from deforestation (e.g. of rainforest to raise animals), Midwestern monocultures in the Midwest (growing grain to feed animals), and feedlots (methane emissions).
Take Action!
Suggested homework
  • Learn whether there are composting options in your community.
  • Design a meal around a food in your cupboard, refrigerator, or freezer that (if you weren’t paying attention), you would eventually throw out.

Link to our Resource page for this session.

Additional resources mentioned during the session: