As we head toward Earth Day 2022, it’s time to talk about cities. What would an Earth-friendly city look like? Maybe it’d be powered by renewable energy, electric vehicles and public transit, with houses alongside protected habitat. Maybe the city dwellers would be fed in ways that nourished both them and the planet.
During the pandemic, we saw the revival of victory gardens, community-supported agriculture, and weekly farm boxes. Closing schools also closed cafeterias, a primary nutrition source for millions of children — but school buses delivered food boxes, families got vouchers at farmers markets, and the federal government relaxed policies that made it harder to feed kids. In other words, as often happens in difficult times, communities came together around food.
Still, we could’ve done better. My son’s take-home school lunch contained the same highly processed, dairy-focused, high-sodium, sugary foods often found at food banks. With meager government support and stretched resources, this cheaper food is often the best schools and food banks can do.
That’s why food policies should support community institutions and local production. Regional food policies help guide what people eat by influencing how much and what kinds of food a city, county, or institution purchases.
Community-driven solutions build resilience and help people thrive. For food, those solutions may be shorter supply chains, easier access to healthy eats, and changing the way we think about what we eat. For towns, they may be walkable, accessible neighborhoods that coexist with native wildlife and get people into stores without fossil fuels.
But local isn’t enough. When it comes to meat and dairy, transportation emissions are only about 4% of the tremendous greenhouse gases it takes to get them on our plates. So simply purchasing grass-fed beef instead of factory-farmed beef isn’t a solution. The only way to meaningfully curb our food’s climate impact is centering vegetables, fruits and other healthy options that aren’t animal products.
Cities need to do better than purchasing local or even organic meat and dairy: They need to buy 25% to 50% less meat and dairy by 2025. This supports local producers by encouraging urban gardens and organic, seasonal, local food and can close the loop on food waste in schools, restaurants, grocery stores and households.
Building better city food policy can begin with adopting models like the Good Food Purchasing Program or Default Veg menus — sourcing from marginalized producers, setting food emissions targets in climate plans, doubling institutional veggie offerings, and encouraging restaurants and schools to do the same.
On Earth Day, coming up on April 22, we can celebrate the planet with delicious and diverse varieties of healthy, Earth-friendly foods.
In other news, the Center for Biological Diversity’s expert series Grazing the Wild: Facts and Fiction About Grass-Fed Beef kicked off last month with our Habitat-Fed Beef panel, which you can watch now and share with others.
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