Taking a Bite out of Climate Change


Ecologist, author, and green blueblood Anna Lappé is one of our very favorite Brooklynites. Her new book, Diet for a Hot Planet, says that we’ve eaten our way into climate change-and we can eat our way out.

Describe life in 100 years if we continue on our current path.

Scientists estimate that we’re looking at an increase of as much as 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by century’s end, and more weather extremes like droughts and floods. Said one expert, farming in New York State could feel like farming in Georgia.

You write that the global food chain is responsible for a whopping third of what’s heating the planet. Come on. A third?

A third of the planet’s arable land is dedicated to raising food for our more than 60 billion livestock animals. Factor in emissions from their waste, as well as the packaging, processing, transport, refrigeration and preparing of the rest of our food and it adds up to as much as one third. Pretty shocking, huh?

Why has food’s role in global warming been all but absent from the conversation?

Think about tobacco. It took decades before we had an open public conversation that cigarettes kill, because the tobacco industry engaged in a strategic campaign to undermine science. Today, emissions-spewing companies have taken a page from the tobacco playbook, pouring tens of millions into spreading doubt about the science of climate change. Despite the misinformation, we now have international consensus on the severity of the climate crisis and the need for urgent action.

How does “personal responsibility” weigh against policy change-or lack thereof?

Individual choices are important but not enough. We wouldn’t berate someone for not taking the subway to work in a city with no public transportation. Nor would we expect a lone individual to excavate subway tunnels, purchase fuel-efficient buses or lay down tracks for high-speed rail. When it comes to transportation, we know we need government to invest in infrastructure.

The same is true for food. We need investment in infrastructure that makes choosing locally raised, organically grown, fresh whole foods as easy as grabbing a Big Mac at the drive-through.

Today, billions of taxpayer dollars support policies that make it hard, if not impossible, to choose climate-friendly food. In the past 12 years, we’ve paid $177 billion mostly to America’s largest commodity farmers. The result is a climate-destructive food system that props up feedlot meat and processed foods by making the key ingredients so artificially cheap.

Elected officials need to know that the Farm Bill-and all food policy-is part of the solution to make us healthier and heal the climate.

It’s almost 40 years since your mom wrote Diet for a Small Planet. What book might your eight-month-old daughter pen in another few decades?

You mean after she writes the tell-all memoir about how her mom force-fed her homemade granola, never took her to McDonald’s and made her reuse her Ziploc bags?

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