Who wants to lose weight? Who wants to help save the environment? What if I told you that it is possible to do both of these things at once? If we take a look at our diets, there is an easy way to lose weight, be healthier, and help reduce your carbon footprint. The average American diet now consists of tons of processed foods and lots of meat and dairy products. Both of these factors into a higher carbon footprint and both of these factors contribute to the rise in obesity in the United States. Simply put, it requires more energy to produce meat and dairy products than it does to grow fruits, vegetables, and grains, and it requires more energy for companies to make processed foods than it does for you to eat whole foods. I want to make it clear that I am not trying to force vegetarianism or veganism on anybody, that is a choice that every individual must make for themselves, and truth be told I still enjoy eating meat and having dairy products. The key is to limit your consumption of these products. This is also not saying that eating meat or dairy products is unhealthy; in fact it is quite the opposite as they are a wonderful source of protein and contain all of the essential amino acids our bodies need. However, as a whole Americans consume roughly 30% of your daily caloric intake from meat & dairy products which is far more than is necessary.
As we grow up we are constantly told what is healthy for us; whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Yet when we become adults and get to make all of our own food choices, we don’t always tend to make the healthiest choices. Besides, it is far easier to go to a fast food joint for something quick to put in our stomachs (I cannot in good conscience call it “food”) or go to the grocery store and buy a premade dinner that has chemicals in it that you cannot pronounce. I don’t think that I’m a breaking any new ground by saying that getting ingredients from your local farmers market, your own garden, or a farm-share program and cooking with them is a far more healthy alternative. A good rule to follow is that if a food item has anything in it that you cannot identify (mixed tocopherols or potassium bromate, e.g.) then you probably shouldn’t be putting it in your body. Whenever possible you should use locally sourced ingredients as they will be fresher (translation: tastier) and you will be able to reduce your carbon footprint that much more. When you go into your local grocery store’s fruit and vegetable section, the labels should tell you at the very least the country of origin of that fruit and vegetable.
Meat used to be considered a delicacy; a special treat reserved for special occasions or as a status symbol for those who could afford to eat it every day. Now, thanks to the industrialization of the meat industry meat is plentiful and cheap. This is good news for our bank accounts but unfortunately it is also bad news for our world. It takes significantly more energy to produce a cow or pig then it does to grow crops. That is because not only do we have to grow our crops to feed ourselves, but now we also have to grow crops to feed our animals as well. Not only do we have to spend energy on growing feed crops for our animals, we also have to use fertilizers and pesticides to make sure that the crops come in on time and whole. Then you add in the methane (another big greenhouse gas) that these animals produce as a byproduct of their digesting the crops that we’ve fed them with. If you’re interested in reading about the carbon footprint of a cheese burger (and it is more than a little depressing), Jamais Cascio has written an excellent article on that. Carbon Footprint of a Cheeseburger.
We know how to eat healthy, it just requires more effort. We know we want the world to survive so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy it, it just requires more effort. I’m not expecting every reader to immediately become a vegetarian and only eat locally sourced produce. However, I do want everyone to take a look at their diet and think about how they can change it for the better. Maybe you simply eat less meat or maybe you buy a share in a farming-coop.
I hope to be doing a continuing series on how to eat healthier and save the environment at the same time. Please leave comments in the comment section if you have any tips or any questions about what you can do!