KPU Prof Talks Diet and Climate Change at Science World

Mike Bomford discusses the importance of dietary choices and their impact on the environment
Braden Klassen, Contributor

Professor Mike Bomford begins his lecture Cool Eats: The City Slicker’s Diet for a Warming Planet with a territorial acknowledgement. (Braden Klassen)

As part of the Speaker Series partnership between Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Science World, KPU Professor Mike Bomford delivered a lecture that addressed the links between people’s diets and their greenhouse gas emissions. Citing Danish researcher Sonja Vermeulen’s work, Bomford said that agriculture food systems account for between 19 and 29 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The climate is already changing,” said Bomford, in the introduction to his lecture. “It’s scary. It’s caused by people, and the way we feed ourselves is a big part of the problem.”

The first part of Bomford’s presentation discussed some of the current research into how modern agricultural practices are affecting climate change.

“If we want to slow carbon dioxide emissions associated with farming, we have to stop logging rainforests, plowing grasslands, and converting peat bogs into farmland,” he said. “But cutting carbon emissions isn’t enough. We also have to pay attention to methane and nitrous oxide, which together account for most of agriculture’s impact on the climate.”

Bomford said that the best way to do that is to consume less meat—especially meat from ruminants like cows, goat, lamb or bison—because the process of feeding these animals generates more emissions than chicken or pork. Eating more fruits and vegetables is also a good way to reduce your dietary impact on emissions.

“Production of fruits and vegetables tends not to generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, unless we grow them in greenhouses heated by fossil fuels like natural gas or propane,” said Bomford.

What you choose to eat matters, as does how you go about getting it. According to Bomford, “Hopping in the car to drive a few kilometres to the grocery store to pick up a single bunch of bananas consumes much more energy, and emits more greenhouse gas per banana, than shipping that same bunch of bananas from the Central American farm where they grew…If we must drive, it’s best to fill the trunk.”

Another thing to watch out for is food with unnecessary packaging, like individually packaged fruits and vegetables. The amount of energy that goes into preparing and packaging foods like this produces more emissions and produces excess waste.

“I want to be able to make informed decisions,” Bomford says, after his lecture ends. “I make a lot of decisions in the grocery store about what I’m going to eat and I want to know, what are the impacts of those sorts of decisions?”

He cites KPU’s involvement with the City of Richmond’s plan to develop the Garden City Lands as an example of something that could have potential consequences in raising greenhouse emissions, due to the land use change.

“About half of that land—it’s about 140 acres—will be dedicated to bog land restorations, and the other half will be farmed,” he says. “I talked about replacing peatlands with agriculture and all of the emission associated with that kind of thing. So here I am talking about it, and we’re in the process of perhaps doing something like that.”

Bomford also commented on Sodexo’s procurement of food for KPU cafeterias.

“I do think there’s movement in the right direction, and I think that they will respond to student decisions and student pressure in that regard. If students demand sustainably sourced food, I think Sodexo will recognize that their contract depends on being able to deliver that,” he says.

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