hamburger flickr icrontic.comIn just under three months Seattle will start requiring retailers to use recyclable and compostable packaging and utensils. Styrofoam and plastic fork addicts, start grieving now.

In my view, the city deserves major kudos for taking on fast food packaging. But at the same time, it’s really just a small first step at coming to terms with the impact of our food system. Sure, packaging is important—but isn’t the larger and even more important issue the impact of the food itself?

  • I’m reminded of the paper vs. plastic debate: the issue shouldn’t be what the bag is made of, but what you put in it.

    Producing a hamburger, for example, creates about five pounds of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas, give or take. (Estimates range from 3.5 to nearly 9 pounds.) But if you choose a PB&J instead of a burger, you can cut your meal’s climate impact dramatically—far more than you can by switching from one kind of wrapper to another.

    So while I’m grateful for all the effort made to promote better packaging choices, what we really need is a conversation that goes deeper than the wrapper, and delves into what we eat and why we eat it—and, in particular, the system of rules and incentives that have made so many unhealthy, environmentally risky foods so dang cheap.

    But to get at those bigger food issues, we need—quite literally—to think outside the box.

    Hamburger photo courtesy of Flickr user Icrontic.com under a Creative Commons license.