How to Eat in a Warming World
Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.
We all make choices about food every day, and those choices are connected to our changing climate. About one-quarter of all planet-warming greenhouse gases emitted each year are a result of how the world eats. If you eat food, you are part of the system.
As the Climate editor at The New York Times, I hear from readers frequently with questions about their major climate concerns. A lot of people ask about food because they feel like it’s something they can control. Readers face so many choices, many of them confusing, about what to buy and what to eat. Part of our mission at The Times is to help people understand the world, so we saw an incredible opportunity.
We decided to create a big, first-of-its-kind collaboration: joining the Food and Climate reporters and editors to give readers something comprehensive, something that could help answer the big questions about how what we eat intersects with climate change. And who knows food better than The Times’s Food desk?
“As both a food editor and a home cook, I had questions, and they bubbled up constantly,” said Emily Weinstein, a deputy Food editor who suggested the collaboration. “Every time I bought groceries I wondered what the best choice was from an environmental perspective: Should I buy greens in a plastic bag or a plastic tub? Was canned tuna bad? Was salmon bad? Beef was probably bad — but what about beef from the farmers’ market?”
We gathered editors from both desks to shape the collaboration, and decided that the Food section would do an entire issue dedicated to climate. It would be “Climate Week” at the Food desk and “Food Week” at the Climate desk. (“Every week is food week!” said one of the editors on Climate.)
We invited Brad Plumer, a Climate reporter, and Julia Moskin, a Food reporter, to join with Rebecca Lieberman, Eden Weingart and Nadja Popovich, who are visual journalists, to find answers to dozens of climate-related food questions and decide the best way to present that to readers. Their comprehensive visual story became the anchor of the collaboration.
“It was so obvious we needed to do this,” said Sam Sifton, the Food editor at The Times. “The science, after all, is clear. The climate is changing. And a lot of home cooks have been left paralyzed at the stove or in the marketplace as a result. What, in general, are we supposed to buy and cook, if we want to help reduce our carbon footprints, the carbon footprints of our nation, our world?”
We also wanted to make this personal, because food choices are incredibly personal. We were all curious about how our food choices compared with those of other Americans. The result: a quiz to calculate the climate impact of the foods most similar to what you ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner yesterday. It’s a good tool to see which foods have the highest impact. One takeaway: You don’t have to become a vegetarian to reduce your climate footprint. Simply eating less meat and more plants, or choosing chicken instead of beef, can make a difference.
Reporters from both desks jumped to pitch stories. Kim Severson wrote about how climate change is making it harder to grow peaches in Georgia and blueberries in Maine. Somini Sengupta gives readers five ways to eat sustainably, using examples from traditional cuisines around the world. Eric Asimov showed us how vineyards and wineries are facing changes. Tejal Rao went to Napa, Calif., to write about drought-tolerant tomatoes, and Melissa Clark wrote about how we should all eat more seaweed.
And there are dozens of recipes, too: for weeknight vegan dinners, for sustainable seafood, for all kinds of bean and lentil meals.
“Food can be a remarkably good way to tie abstract ideas to personal experience,” Ms. Weinstein said. “In this case, connecting the climate change threat to the very human, everyday choices of what you’ll buy, and cook, and eat.”