Food Choices for a Healthier Planet
While I’ve always been interested in green living, I didn’t learn until just a few years ago how our food choices can have a big impact on the environment. For anyone out there who thinks sustainable living means wearing all-hemp outfits, going around with dirty hair, or just plain going without, this one’s for you. When it comes to food, what’s best for the planet just happens to be the best for our bodies and our taste buds.
1. Get acquainted with your kitchen and learn to cook. Number one, must-have requirement for life is learning how to cook basic meals from scratch. It’s the prerequisite for all the other things on the list. Once you learn to cook, you will enjoy high quality, tasty meals that are reasonably priced. Plus, you’ll feel empowered by all the things you can do for yourself. Seriously, learning to cook will change your life.
2. Stop buying processed foods. When you’ve learned to cook some easy meals, you can stop buying processed food. No more salt-laden cans of soup poured over rice mixes from a box. No meat nuggets, pizza rolls, or frozen waffles with syrup-flavored crystals. No more Hamburger Helper or Stovetop Stuffing. Talk about a high “Ewwww Factor”!
Those “foods” start with low-quality commodity corn and soy that’s grown with copious amounts of toxic chemicals. It is then shipped by gas-guzzling trucks or trains to huge, energy-sucking factories that convert it into chemicals which ultimately make up the product. Finally, they are elaborately packaged using petroleum-based materials and loaded back onto gas-guzzling trucks that deliver them to your local grocery.
Although you're brilliant, you don’t have to be to see how our industrial food system is not just unsustainable, but alarmingly out of control.
3. Eat foods that are seasonal and local. Here’s where that “best for our taste buds” stuff comes in. Patronize farmers markets and local food co-ops in your area and get to know your farmer. When your food choices include fruits and vegetables in season from local farmers, you will soon become spoiled.
For example, I cannot and will not buy fresh tomatoes or berries at the grocery in the middle of November. I know those foods can’t be grown in Eastern Pennsylvania at that time. Those tomatoes and berries were imported by, you guessed it, gas-guzzling trucks. And, they don’t taste good, either.
The varieties grown by many large-scale farmers that export their products are typically chosen for how well they travel, uniformity in appearance, and disease resistance. Notice that “flavor” is missing from the list. In November, I’ll be eating winter squash, beets, Brussels sprouts, radishes, mustard greens, potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli. I’ll also be eating home-canned tomatoes and apricots, pickled carrots, and frozen beans and berries that I bought from the farmers market in the summer when they were plentiful, at the peak of flavor, and reasonably-priced.
4. Choose organically-grown foods when possible. I don’t buy organic foods just because I think they have a better nutrition profile. In contrast to a recent, highly-publicized and highly-disputed Stanford University meta-analysis, there are well-designed studies proving that organically-grown foods are, in fact, more nutritious than their conventionally-grown counterparts.
Nutrition is a topic for another day, however. I buy organic foods for what they don’t have: nasty, petroleum-based chemical fertilizers and noxious pesticides and herbicides that have been proven harmful to our health and the environment.
All those chemicals have to end up somewhere, and that “somewhere” is everywhere. In storm water runoff that pollutes rivers and streams, killing fish and wildlife. In our soil where, over time, plants need more and more chemicals to grow. And, in our air.
I feel good knowing that my food choices are better for agricultural workers who plant, tend to, and harvest the food I eat. They didn’t have to cover their hands, eyes, nose, and mouth to do so.
5. Choose pasture-based meats, eggs, and dairy when possible. Pasture-based animals roam freely on...well, pasture. They eat the grass, grubs, and seeds in the ground. When they poo, the soil is naturally fertilized so more grass can grow. The animals are eating what they were designed to eat and they go on to produce meat, eggs, and milk that are the ultimate in quality, nutrition and flavor.
Crack open your first farm-fresh egg from a pastured hen, and you might not recognize it. The yolk isn’t all flat, watery, and pale yellow. It’s a brilliant, bright orange and unabashedly huge, firm and round. When you eat it, you’ll be a convert.
A well-managed pasture is a completely closed-loop, sustainable, humane system where everything gets used. There is no bad smell. Animal waste isn’t piped away from a feedlot where it will eventually become a pollutant. The animals don’t stand in one spot all day and eat commodity corn that’s shipped in from hundreds of miles away by... gas-guzzling trucks.
Read more about pastured animals by visiting Eat Wild. You'll find a wealth of information about food choices and where to buy pastured meat, eggs, and milk in your area.