It’s no secret: what we eat has an impact on the environment. According to the EPA, agriculture accounts for 9% of the United State’s greenhouse gas emissions, and this does not take into account all the resources consumed and waste produced to make the food we consume.1 As much as we might like to eat nothing but unprocessed, unpackaged food grown within a 30 foot radius of our dorm or apartment, it isn’t realistic for most of us. However, there are small steps we can all take to reduce the environmental impact of the food we consume. Here are some tips to reduce your carbon and waste footprints, from one budgetarily challenged college student to another.
- Instead of a pot of ramen or a cup of microwave mac and cheese, opt for a baked potato.
- Ramen and easy mac are the quintessential collegiate foods – quick, cheap, and full of the carbs you need to get through the day (or all-nighter). But all that plastic packaging goes straight into a landfill, and just imagine all the water and power it takes to get that ultra processed goodness. On the other hand, a potato comes straight from the ground with minimal processing, and its skin is its package. A potato is also cheap, takes minutes to cook in the microwave, and loaded with the carbs you need to survive the semester.
- Skip the bagel bites and pizza rolls and grab some popcorn or nuts.
- They might be delicious, but heavily processed snacks like pizza rolls are not great for the environment. Instead of something that took tons of energy to process and package, snack on almonds or popcorn (invest in an air popper and a big container of kernels instead of the individually packaged microwave bags).
- Instead of a fruit cups, buy actual fruit.
- Fruit cups are a convenient food to take on the go, but, as you could probably tell from the syrup and the fact that they don’t need a refrigerator, these are highly processed. Are you sensing a trend yet? Hint: less processed means better for the earth.
- Swap out meat for plant based foods.
- We’ve all heard this one. You knew it was going to be on this list. Meat is a huge culprit when it comes to the environmental impact of our food, with beef being the worst offender both in terms of greenhouse gases and resources required.2 Although cutting out meat altogether is an option, you don’t have to go full blown vegetarian or vegan to make a difference. Going meatless one or two days a week and swapping out beef for a lower impact meat like chicken are changes that add up in the long run.
- Eat more beans.
- This goes along with swapping meat for plant based food, but beans specifically are a great substitute. Most plants don’t produce their own nitrogen, which means they require fertilizers that create harmful runoff that causes problems like algal blooms. But bean plants are nitrogen fixing, which means they require less fertilizers, which is, in turn, better for the environment.3 So the next time you are on your late night run to Taco Bell, fill your burrito up with beans.
Art credit to Abigale Pstrzoch
 “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Environmental Protection Agency, 14 Feb. 2017. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.
 De Vries, M., and I. J. M. De Boer. “Comparing Environmental Impacts for Livestock Products: A Review of Life Cycle Assessments.” Livestock Science 128.1-3 (2010): 1-11. Science Direct. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.
 “Efficient Use and Conservation of Energy – Volume II.” Google Books. Ed. Clark W. Gellings. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2017.