December is a season of holidays, centered on food and gifts. For too many of us, cultural norms have turned it into a time of commercial excess and waste that threatens biodiversity. What we eat is a big part of the equation — as well as what we don’t eat, or what we throw away.
If food waste were a country, it would be the third top emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States and China. People funnel enormous resources into food we don’t eat. First, we waste resources in how we produce food; then, in the United States, we waste up to 40% of that food.
Food waste is responsible for 21% of freshwater use, contributing to the loss of riparian ecosystems and the decline of precious wild species that depend on them — species like yellow-billed cuckoos, the “rain crows” whose songs once heralded thunderstorms and summer showers across the U.S. West.
The type of food we waste matters because some foods are more resource intensive than others. Uneaten meat and dairy are responsible for one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions and more than three-quarters of the habitat loss associated with all food waste. The meat and dairy industries are behind the unnecessary killing of millions of native animals, including hundreds of gray wolves, targeted largely at the behest of livestock owners. Produce is the most wasted food by bulk, but meat, dairy and seafood are the most environmentally damaging foods to waste.
Politicians, lawmakers and institutions need to get the message on eliminating food waste. It’s less controversial than other issues and has straightforward solutions that make environmental and economic sense, like standardizing date labels and improving inventory to stop overproduction. The Center for Biological Diversity is working on getting that message out.
Meanwhile, where possible each of us can eat less of the most resource-intensive foods, waste less food overall, and live in better accordance with our values.
When I think about what I’ll leave behind for my son, for succeeding generations, and for wildlife and wild places, I don’t want to waste one moment of my life — or one precious resource — on actions that don’t prioritize biodiversity over shortsighted corporate profits.
This holiday season, as we gather with loved ones to celebrate those values — and, of course, to eat — it’s the perfect time to enact and embody a love for the wild world. To make it easy, we created this shopping guide, fridge guide and cooking guide.
Help celebrate family, nature and community by making sure you don’t waste wildlife.
Write to me with your questions at EarthFriendlyDiet@BiologicalDiversity.org.
For the wild,
Jennifer Molidor, Senior Food Campaigner
Population and Sustainability Program
Center for Biological Diversity