Bringing the climate fight to the table


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    Steve Dietrich, left, of Planet Produce in Baltimore, mostly stocks in-season local fruits and vegetables, but carries some imported goods for shoppers who expect to find everything fresh all the time. Chef Spike Gjerde inspects kale, which grows nearly year-round in Maryland.

    - Jon Miller/Homelands Productions

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    Roni Neff, research and policy director at the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says eating a climate-friendly diet provides "co-benefits" – it's good for health and the environment. For this climate-friendly meal, she and chef Spike Gjerde chose a blue hubbard squash grown by an Amish farmer in nearby Pennsylvania.

    - Jon Miller/Homelands Productions

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    Spike Gjerde opened Artifact Coffee in mid-2012 in a renovated sailcloth mill. He and chef Ben Lambert shuck farmed Chesapeake Bay oysters. Oyster farms get high marks for sustainability, but flying oysters to distant markets can offset their climate benefits. 

    - Jon Miller/Homelands Productions

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    For their climate-friendly meal, Gjerde and Lambert invented the main course as they went along. The squash dish is accompanied by wine, oysters, turnips and rolls. Although meat consumption has declined, Americans still eat more than 270 pounds per person per year. One way to reduce that is to use meat as a complementary ingredient, rather than the meal’s centerpiece.

    - Jon Miller/Homelands Productions

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    Spike Gjerde says he takes joy in knowing where his food comes from. “Mindful eating,” he says, is a way to connect with the world around us.

    - Jon Miller/Homelands Productions

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    A climate-friendly dinner prepared by chef Spike Gjerde of Wooberry Kitchen in Baltimore, recognized as one of the country's 10 best new restaurants by Bon Appetit in 2009. The meal features local vegetables, grains and seafood. Climate-friendly food advocates say cutting down on beef and lamb is the biggest step people can take to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions embedded in their food.

    - Jon Miller/Homelands Productions

There are more than 7 billion people living on the planet now, and it looks like there'll be another 2 billion of us by the middle of the century. In our series, "Food for 9 Billion," we've been asking what it's going to take to keep us all fed. Over the last year, we've looked at how to boost food production without destroying the environment, how to deal with water shortages and climate change, and how to get policies right on things like food prices and nutrition. We've also looked at the demand side -- like how to slow population growth and cut down on waste. Sometimes those questions can feel pretty remote -- especially at a time of year when it seems like all we do is eat. But we're part of the picture, too.

If you look at all the challenges facing food producers around the world, you could argue that the most daunting one is climate change. Higher temperatures, higher sea levels, crazy weather...

Well, it turns out our food system isn’t just challenged by climate change -- it’s also one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas. Most of it comes from the production end -- methane from cattle, nitrous oxide from fertilizer, CO2 from cutting down trees -- but several recent studies have concluded that we will never be truly food-secure unless we change the way we eat. Which is why I went to Baltimore.

There, I met up with Spike Gjerde, the chef of Woodberry Kitchen, which has received national praise for its seasonal, locally sourced food. We were also joined by Roni Neff, the research and policy director at the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and an expert in the connection between climate change and diet.

I decided to give both of them a challenge: to shop for and prepare a festive, not-so-expensive, not-so-hard-to-make, climate-friendly meal.

Follow our quest through Belvedere Market and Gjerde's new restaurant Artifact by listening to the audio above. And read Neff's steps for a climate-friendly diet here.


"Food for 9 Billion" is a collaboration with Homelands Productions, PBS NewsHour and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

About the author

Jonathan Miller has been executive director of Homelands Productions since 2005.

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