Victoria Brodsky

The Quartet of Food Production, Waste, Climate Change, and Nutrition

On my previous guest blogs, Why Our Food Systems are so Wasteful and  The Positive Feedback Loop of Production and Climate Change, I discuss some of the intricacies between food systems, waste, and climate change. When we throw in the topic of Nutrition, we get a complex quartet of subjects whose relationships are imperative in solving the world’s most pressing issues like climate change, hunger, and health.

The Effects of Climate Change on Nutritional Value

Although believing that changes in climate can affect the nutritional profile of a crop may seem unlikely, more and more research is showing that the relationship is more serious than we thought (cue last year’s dreadful “Brown Rice is becoming less nutritious!” headline).

Climate change not only has a negative impact on the crop output, but also the quality of the crop and its macro and micro nutrient contents and ratios.

“Though changes in temperature, CO2 concentrations, and solar radiation may benefit plant growth rates, this does not equate to increased production. Increasing temperatures cause cultivated plants to grow and mature more quickly. But because the soil may not be able to supply nutrients at required rates for faster growing plants, plants may be smaller, reducing grain, forage, fruit, or fiber production.” 10
– National Climate Assessment, Climate Change Impacts in the U.S. (Report)

Fiber, Protein, and CO2

Fiber is one of those famous health buzzwords we’re all aware of. We know fiber is good and we should get more of it. Most Americans already lack fiber-rich foods in their diet, so to have such an important nutrient on the line because of the imbalances caused by CO2 concentrations isn’t great news for our guts.

And, it’s not just humans who are impacted. Livestock food nutrient content may also be at risk. Crops like soybean and alfalfa are in danger of having a reduced nitrogen and protein content, which not only influences the food products they end up in and the consumers who are eating them, but also the food quality for livestock.17

 Fruits and nuts have a high nutrient density, and usually a large part of a healthy diet. But by mid century, estimates have predicted that chilling requirements for fruit and nut trees, specifically in California, will not be met, leading to reduced crop output per acre.17 This would leave California farms falling short of the growth that industry would require in order to keep up with rising demands. And rising demands means we’re paying even more for our favorite superfoods like berries and almonds.

So, as you can see, climate change puts the nutrient profile of our food at risk, thus, putting us at risk for more nutrient deficiencies and related health issues.

Lack of Nutrition and Food Education Makes Fruit and Vegetable Waste the Worst Culprit

Nutritional education early on is an important topic that is unfortunately widely misunderstood and clouded by media, big pharmacy, and various industries leveraging the confusion around nutritional science.

A culture diseased by the western diet of refined carbohydrates, sugar, excess fat and salt has not only led to a world where nearly 1/4 of the global population is overweight or obese, but also normalized a culture where food waste, especially of fruits and vegetables, is the norm.

Of the 150,000 tons of food wasted in American every day, the food products wasted the most are fruits and vegetables. Although fruits and vegetables require a lot of agricultural inputs, they require less cropland and promote a healthy lifestyle for consumers. However, due to lack of understanding in how to properly prepare, cook, store, and use fruits and vegetables, nearly 40% of food waste in America happens in the home.21

The Ugly-Fruit Phobia

Additionally, the consumers’ preference of cosmetically perfect fruits and vegetables requires farmers to throw out produce that looks or feels unworthy of a grocery store aisle (bruised, misshapen, too small or too large). Over 1/3 of fruits and vegetables are left in the field, fed to livestock, or hauled straight to the landfill due to their imperfections.21 Proper nutritional education about the importance of fruits and vegetables for health, and the best practices to use them.

To combat some of these issues, keep an eye out on your own food waste, buy “ugly” fruit at the farmer’s market, and do your best to lower your carbon footprint overall.


Sources Cited:

(10) Grotjahn, R., Holden, P., & Mader, T. (n.d.). Climate Change Impacts in the United States. Retrieved from https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/sectors/agriculture


(17) Latest News on Hunger in US, Africa, Asia, Global. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.worldhunger.org/

(21) A third of fruit and vegetable crops too ugly to sell. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2018-08-fruit-
vegetable-crops-ugly.html

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