Why Food Deserves More Attention in Reversing Climate Change

By Trevor McCoy

Our global food system carries a substantial carbon footprint, but you might not know that if you aren’t a climate scientist. While calculating exactly how much carbon is emitted by the entire food system would be impossibly complicated, experts have created emissions estimates for different sections of our food system, especially food’s greatest source of carbon emissions, agriculture.

In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international group of scientists and experts that produces reports on climate change for the United Nations, listed Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU) as contributing 24% of our global carbon emissions.1 By comparison, the IPCC calculated that all of land, sea, and air transportation combined represent 14% of global emissions.

It is already difficult to fully understand the process that takes place when exhaust from a car’s tailpipe makes its way into the atmosphere and affects our climate, but it is even more complex to understand how something like agriculture or forestry could contribute to global warming. Figure 1 breaks down AFOLU into its components, illustrating their contributions to climate change.

Figure 1

The IPCC has broken up AFOLU’s carbon footprint into 11 major sections. Although this graph can seem complicated, with a little guidance it is easy to understand. Let’s start by looking at the big yellow section, “Enteric Fermentation.” Although enteric fermentation might be a foreign concept, it’s just the way certain animals like cows or sheep (known as ruminants) digest their food, which is a process that is very different from the way humans digest food. These animals produce significant amounts of methane (CH4), a greenhouse gas that has substantial warming properties and is much more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Although an individual cow has an inconsequentially small carbon footprint, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) there are more than 1.4 billion cows in the world.2 In fact, the FAO estimates that the livestock industry is responsible for nearly 15% of humanity’s yearly carbon footprint, and cows produce approximately 65% of livestock emissions.3

I won’t go into detail on every aspect of AFOLU, but most components can simply be summarized as soil and nutrient management. However, the biggest section, “Land Use Change and Forestry,” is worth fully dissecting. This block is calculated from a wide number of different land use changes, but you can basically think of it as deforestation. Forests are incredible carbon banks, able to store several tons of carbon in every tree. So, when people remove a section of forest with the slash and burn technique, we are releasing this carbon into the atmosphere.

Most people have already heard that deforestation is bad for the planet, but what does this have to do with food? You might find it disheartening to learn that scientists from REDD, an organization established through the United Nations to protect the Earth’s forests from deforestation and degradation, have named agriculture as the most important driver of global deforestation.4

In the 10,000 years since we first began digging in the dirt, we have driven the cultivation of food to an unprecedented scale. Earth’s land surface is approximately 15 billion hectares, of which 4.5 billion are either glaciers or deserts, leaving about 10.5 billion hectares of “habitable land.”5 Since 8000 BCE, humans have converted roughly 5 billion hectares of this natural land to agricultural use, and 4 billion hectares of that land was transformed in just the last 300 years. To put it simply, in a very short amount of time we have converted about half of the world’s habitable land from natural ecosystems to agriculture. Changes to the Earth’s surface at this scale have consequences, especially when it comes to climate change. Figures 2 and 3 illustrate just how significantly we have changed the Earth in such a short amount of time.

Figure 2

Figure 3

 

Unfortunately, food’s role in climate change doesn’t stop at agriculture. AFOLU’s carbon footprint considers the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land use change, but this is only the very first step of the food system. After we have grown our food, it will need to be transported, processed, refrigerated, cooked, and we will need to dispose of any food waste created along the way. The FAO estimates that food waste alone produces 8% of our yearly global carbon emissions.6 Every step of our current food system, from agriculture to waste disposal, releases billions of tons of carbon into our atmosphere, making food’s role in global warming one that we cannot afford to ignore.

While there are numerous climate activism campaigns encouraging citizens to turn off the lights, drive less, or install solar panels, food does not receive enough attention in the United States. While some cities and organizations are calling specific attention to the importance of food’s carbon footprint, many Americans have never been introduced to this information. However, projects like Drawdown – “The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming” – have been working to spread information about food systems as one the most important sectors in the fight against climate change. In fact, 8 of Drawdown’s top 20 solutions to reverse global warming are specifically in the food sector, and most of the other 12 indirectly involve food systems.7 Even Drawdown’s number one solution to reverse global warming, Refrigerant Management, is primarily a materials problem, but also an integral piece of our modern food system.

For humans to win the fight against climate change, we will need to rethink and rebuild every sector of our society. If we are going to continue to thrive as a species despite the changes that our planet is undergoing, we must give food more attention.

 

Sources

  1. Smith P., M. Bustamante, H. Ahammad, H. Clark, H. Dong, E.A. Elsiddig, H. Haberl, R. Harper, J. House, M. Jafari, O. Masera, C. Mbow, N.H. Ravindranath, C.W. Rice, C. Robledo Abad, A. Romanovskaya, F. Sperling, and F. Tubiello, 2014: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Retrieved from: https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter11.pdf
  2. Tayyibb, S. (2010). Stastistical Yearbook of the Food And Agricultural Organization for the United Nations. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/docrep/017/i3138e/i3138e07.pdf
  3. Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G. 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3437e.pdf
  4. Kissinger, G., M. Herold, V. De Sy. Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Degradation: A Synthesis Report for REDD+ Policymakers. Lexeme Consulting, Vancouver Canada, August 2012.Retrieved from: https://www.forestcarbonpartnership.org/sites/fcp/files/DriversOfDeforestation.pdf_N_S.pdf
  5. Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie (2018) – “Yields and Land Use in Agriculture”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/yields-and-land-use-in-agriculture
  6. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (2011). Food Wastage Footprint & Climate Change. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/3/a-bb144e.pdf
  7. (2017). Food Sector Summary. Retrieved from: https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

New Resources for Learning about Shared Kitchens and Food Business Incubators

Shared-use commercial kitchens, kitchen incubators, and other food business programs build entrepreneurial opportunities in local food systems by providing affordable commercial kitchen space. These for-profit and nonprofit facilities have been sprouting up around the country in response to the growing market for local, artisan foods. Exciting new business models are emerging and many planners are eager to learn more about them and the regulatory questions they raise. We would like to highlight a couple new resources that may be beneficial to APA members interested in the topic:

NICK Summit is an upcoming gathering of some of the nation’s leading shared kitchens and business incubators that will explore successful incubation programs and kitchen management strategies. The day-long Summit by the Network for Incubator and Commissary Kitchens will be held on October 10, 2018, at The Good Acre in Falcon Heights, MN. The day will include a keynote on kitchen innovations, a panel of impact-driven programs, exciting quick fire sessions, and opportunities to discuss sticky kitchen management issues with peers and experts in the industry. This inaugural event is a collaboration of The Food Corridor, Grow North, The Wallace Center, The Good Acre, and Fruition Planning & Management. Attendees can also take advantage of exciting events at The Inaugural Food | Ag | Ideas Week and Twin Cities Startup Week.

A new reference guide, the Shared Kitchen Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Planning, Launching and Managing a Shared Use Commercial Kitchen, was published earlier this year by The Food Corridor in partnership with Purdue University Extension, with funding from the USDA North Central SARE. This comprehensive resource provides guidance on definitions, business models, funding sources, planning considerations, and daily operations. The Toolkit is available as a free downloadable PDF or wiki.

Faces of Food Systems Planning – Dawn Meader McCausland

Dawn Meader McCausland is the founder and principal of Fruition Planning & Management, a Seattle area consulting firm that works at the intersection of food and community development in order to support organizations that expand opportunities and advance equity. Dawn recently co-authored Shared Kitchen Toolkit: A Practical Guide for Planning, Launching and Managing a Shared-Use Commercial Kitchen.

  1. What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work, and where does that fit in with the rest of the work that you do?

Lately, the focus of my work has been food entrepreneurship programs and facilities, in particular, kitchen incubators and shared-use commercial kitchens. Shared kitchens are like co-working spaces for small food businesses. Kitchen incubators (also known as food business incubators) are similar but also offer training and support services for food entrepreneurs. Some of the best known ones, like La Cocina in San Francisco, are nonprofits specifically focused on low income, immigrant and minority businesses, but there are also many for-profit facilities. The common thread is that they offer affordable commercial kitchen space, which is needed to meet food licensing requirements that prohibit people from selling (most) foods made in a home kitchen. Shared kitchens and food business incubators play an important, but often overlooked role in the food system. When I attempted to develop a shared kitchen I was amazed at how complicated it was and how few resources were available. That frustration became my motivation. I set out to learn everything I could and eventually refocused my consulting on food entrepreneurship. I’ve spent the last year working with partners to develop resources to support shared kitchens and kitchen incubators.

  1. What do you enjoy about your work?

I love the creativity of food and the excitement of being a part of the entrepreneurial journey. I’m trained as a Planner and as a Chocolatier, so I gravitated to this work as a way to combine my passions for community development and good food. I’m particularly inspired by the potential for food entrepreneurship to bring greater opportunities to people with limited financial resources or access to the traditional job market, such as immigrants and refugees. I worked in public housing for many years and see a great need to create economic opportunities for people facing barriers. I’m continually inspired by the groups I work with and the entrepreneurs they serve. I love problem-solving so I especially enjoy the analysis and strategy involved in finding the right solution. It’s an exciting time to be in this field because there’s so much innovation. Collectively we’re starting to really appreciate that food can be a tremendous tool for revitalization and community building.

  1. Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work?

Shared commercial kitchens and incubators are diverse and unique to each community. Every time I think I’ve seen all the variations, someone develops a new model. Lately it’s been a trend toward clusters of single-user kitchens and production spaces, sometimes called “pods”. It’s fascinating. But it can also be challenging to wrap your arms around all of the models to come up with best practices that work in different communities. I recently co-authored the Shared Kitchen Toolkit: A Practical Guide for Planning, Launching and Managing a Shared-Use Commercial Kitchen and it took 30 pages just to define the types and discuss their uses and revenue streams. It’s exciting to be working in such a rapidly evolving area of food systems, but it can feel elusive. Local rules for these facilities vary tremendously by jurisdiction. And food industry trends and changes in food regulations are continually shifting the landscape of what’s needed and what’s possible.

  1. Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not?

No, because I don’t generally do traditional long range, comprehensive food systems planning – I’m more specialized. I would say I’m part of the food systems planning world, but I’m not a food systems planner. My goal is to help people understand the role of food entrepreneurship in the food systems puzzle.

  1. What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with?

Because shared commercial kitchens and food business incubators straddle food systems and economic development it’s been challenging to find stakeholders invested in the success of them as a group. I think that’s starting to change and I’ve been lucky to join teams working on developing resources for their unique needs. But there is still so much research needed about what’s working and the impact these programs and facilities are having on the food system and local communities. I worry we aren’t being as effective as we could be. From a policy standpoint, there is a real need for more consistency and transparency in how shared facilities are regulated. But the first task is helping people understand why they matter. In a sense, shared kitchens and kitchen incubators are the “back of house” of food systems – out of sight and sometimes undervalued in our focus on the production and consumption ends of the system.

  1. How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field?

It’s exciting to see how much it’s grown as a field. We’re understanding so much more about the layers of local food systems and how they interact with the global food economy. It’s been fascinating to see how advocacy for changing the food system has influenced consumer preferences over the last 10 years. New trends in local, healthy, ethnic, and sustainable food have opened up more opportunities for small businesses and shifted market share from the big food companies. I think we’re wrestling with what sustainability looks like at scale and perennial issues of injustice in the food system. We’re also learning more about how to leverage economic forces. I think the next step is incorporating more insights from market research and behavioral economics.

  1. Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner?

Karen Chapple, my advisor at UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning taught me a lot about the potential for equitable community economic development strategies. I’m grateful for the economic analysis tools she and others taught me in planning school. But my perspective is also influenced by the social justice framework I gained from my Ethnic Studies undergrad.

  1. What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school?

How to build the career you want in planning and all the different ways in which planners use their training outside of traditional planning work. And how valuable business classes could be!

  1. Any advice you’d give to people entering the planning or food systems field?

I would encourage them to think more about implementation and who needs to be engaged in the process to bring plans to life and make them more equitable. I think it’s also important to try to understand the role of the economy in your work – whether that’s development pressure or food trends. Ultimately you’ll be more creative and effective if you understand the forces at play.

 

 

Take action: Support the Senate’s Farm Bill

farmbill

APA is calling on planning advocates to ask their representatives in Congress to support the Senate version of the Farm Bill.

While the bipartisan Senate measure advances important planning and local-food initiatives, expands access to healthy food, and builds on communities’ efforts to improve rural economies, the House version does not. Planners who explain now to elected officials why the Senate bill is better for planning may influence the legislative outcome.

Their Challenge: APA has set a goal for 100 calls during the month of August. When you’ve called your representative’s office, please inform APA Public Affairs Manager Emily Pasi at epasi@planning.org.

Need a cheat sheet? Check out congressional call script.  And learn more about the Farm Bill and its impacts on public health.

Visionary Voices in Food Systems Podcast

wallaceandfslnlogosThe Food Systems Leadership Network of the Wallace Center at Winrock International has just launched their our inaugural podcast: Visionary Voices!  In this first season of the Visionary Voices podcast, co-hosts Megan Bucknum (APA-FIG Leadership Committee Member) and Hannah Mellion sat down with three nationally known and respected food systems leaders and mentors, Paula Daniels, Malik Yakini, and Anupama Joshi, to learn about their personal leadership journeys, seek their advice for creating change, and discuss the value of partnership, mentorship, and leadership.

Listen now to Episode 1 with Paula Daniels, Co-founder and Chair of the Center for Good Food Purchasing: https://soundcloud.com/user-326472825/visionary-voices-podcast-a-conversation-with-paula-daniels.

Feeling inspired to get involved? Sign FIG’s petition to become an official APA Division here: www.surveymonkey.com/r/APAFoodSystems.

Faces of Food Systems Planning: Trevor McCoy

McCoyTrevor

Name: Trevor McCoy

Current Positions: Georgia Tech – Masters of City Planning & Public Policy Candidate – Collaborating with my academic advisor, Dr. Michael Elliott to design and teach Georgia Tech’s first Sustainable Food Systems course.

Georgia Organics – Georgia Food Oasis Intern

1. What areas of the food system do you focus on in your work, and where does that fit in with the rest of the work that you do? As a student at Georgia Tech, I spend most of my time doing research, focusing on the environmental impacts of our global and national food systems. This is research that will be included in the Sustainable Food Systems course that my advisor and I have been designing and will teach together in January 2019.

My main interest lies in agriculture’s substantial carbon footprint, which does not receive the attention that it deserves. In 2014, the IPCC listed agriculture, forestry, and other land use as 24% of global carbon emissions. By comparison, all of land, sea, and air transportation combined are only 14% of our emissions.

Everyone eats. My goal is to bring as much attention to food’s role in our carbon footprint as I can.

2. What do you enjoy about your work? I like to focus on big problems. Although they’re intimidating and sometimes scary, the biggest problems also provide the most room for us to improve, become more efficient, and ultimately come closer to achieving sustainability. There is so much wrong with our food system that it can be depressing, or it can be motivating. When we focus on the world’s worst problems, we can create the world’s most important solutions.

3. Similarly, what do you find challenging about your work? Food is deeply personal. This makes it easy to accidentally offend someone. People eat what tastes good, and it’s extremely difficult to change established dietary habits, as we’ve seen with products like sugary soft drinks. We know that these sugar-filled beverages aren’t healthy for us, but millions of Americans drink them every day. I find them particularly hard to resist around the holidays.

Similar to sugar’s role in America’s health, many foods play an important role in our most pressing environment issues. Like sugar, these foods are consumed by millions of Americans every day, which means that finding a way to approach conversations and debates about these issues with friends, family, or colleagues can be extremely tricky.

4. Do you consider yourself a food systems planner? Why or why not? This is a hard question for me to answer. The short answer is that I’m still training to be a food systems planner. I have gotten my feet wet by working with different organizations that are determined to eradicate food deserts, but most of my work has been researching the problems with our food system, rather than trying to actually solve them. I plan to transition from research to application over the next few years, taking the knowledge that I have built and applying it to create solutions through planning and policy.

5. What is the biggest food systems planning-related hurdle your community/organization faced in recent years and how was it dealt with? In my work with Georgia Organics’ Food Oasis Program, I have joined their efforts to improve nutrition and provide food security. We are helping the city of Augusta to connect and engage its residents with local farmers to organize community-led interventions for improving their local food environment. Additionally, we have been assisting individuals who are interested in contributing to the food system, especially through urban agriculture.

But America’s nutrition epidemic will not be solved without a heavy dose of creativity and a lot of hard work. It will take a coordinated effort that breaches political lines and all levels of government to win our country’s simultaneous wars on undernutrition and overnutrition.

6. How has your perception of food systems planning changed since you first entered the planning field? When I first came into the world of food systems planning, I didn’t really “believe” in urban agriculture. The amount of food that a city’s residents require is far greater than the amount that urban agriculture can offer. I used to grow frustrated with people who claimed that urban agriculture was the solution to our nation’s food crises. However, over time I have come to realize how much value urban agriculture has to offer.

There is no question that urban agriculture is not enough to feed our urban population. If we want to change the food system, it needs to take place in the urban setting as well as rural communities, where the vast majority of our food is actually grown. However, urban agriculture plays a vital role in our fight to overhaul the current system. Two hundred years ago, over 80% of Americans were farmers. One hundred years ago, over 20% of Americans were farmers. Today, less than 2% of Americans are farmers. This has distanced the average American’s connection to their food – seeing where it comes from, how it’s made, and what it takes to get food from the field to the plate.

Urban Agriculture helps to recreate the bridge between people and their food by bringing the production of food to the people in a role that is primarily educational. Although it cannot feed the population, urban agriculture reconnects us to our land and can help us to determine what we should eat in a world where such a simple question has become incredibly complex. I especially believe that every school in every city should have a thriving garden, where children can develop a connection to local fruits and vegetables, which will help them to choose which foods to eat during their entire lives. Ron Finley said it best in his Ted Talk, “Children who grow cauliflower will eat cauliflower.”

7. Who has had the most influence on you as a planner? As a food systems planner? Of course, all of my professors at Georgia Tech have been incredibly influential. Most of all, my advisor, Dr. Michael Elliott, who helped me to channel my interests in food systems into something productive and has had a formative influence on me since I joined this program.

I also need to mention Michael Pollan. Over the past year I’ve been reading all of his books and watching his documentaries, and it has been an eye-opening experience. His writings exposed me to some of the biggest issues of our food systems, and Omnivore’s Dilemma rocked my entire worldview.

8. What do you wish you would have known before going to planning school? When I first came to Georgia Tech, I thought I would be happy in the environmental specialization, but I quickly realized that most of the environmental issues I cared about involved food. For some time, I wished that I had gone to a university whose planning department had a greater emphasis on food systems, and if I had known that I would be this passionate about food then I probably wouldn’t have chosen Georgia Tech. However, because Georgia Tech’s planning department has not historically placed a large emphasis on food, I have been given the opportunity to assist in the creation of the university’s first food systems class, which has been an honor. I believe that this will be the first class of many, and hopefully one day our planning department will offer an entire food systems specialization.

Farm Bill Issue Briefing

Join APA’s Policy and Advocacy team for a timely Planners’ Advocacy Network briefing on legislative action to reauthorize the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill, the United States’ primary agricultural and food policy tool, is set to expire at the end of September. Learn about differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill and what’s next now that Congress is back from July 4 recess, how the final bill could impact local planning efforts, and what planners can do now to shape the debate in Congress. Register for the free webinar today: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/6313959108664858627

And if you care about food systems and planning, don’t forget to sign FIG’s APA Division petition here: www.surveymonkey.com/r/APAFoodSystems.