1. Purchase organic, sustainably produced food when you can.
The industrialized way plants and animals are farmed today (by just a few large corporations) has negative impacts on the environment that we don’t often realize. Here’s how:
In today’s crop production, monocultures of mostly corn and soybeans (from genetically modified seeds) are grown over large areas, year after year. These crops rely on the use of chemical fertilizers for nutrients, pesticides to control critters and disease, and machines that replace human labor. These monocultures remove nutrients from the soil, requiring farmers to use even more chemical fertilizers that cause soil erosion and increase the salinity of the soil. The increase in salinity makes any available nutrients inaccessible to the plants requiring even more fertilizers to be applied. The fertilizers also contain nitrogen that can leach into rivers and streams, encouraging overgrowth of algae and depriving wildlife of oxygen. The pesticides applied to fields kill the beneficial insects that are healthy for the crops, can be passed down to animals and humans that eat the crops, and develop pests that are pesticide-resistant.
On today’s animal factory farms, most animals are raised together in unnaturally large numbers. The animals are confined in spaces with little room for normal behaviors and little or no access to sunlight and fresh air. At many of these large factory farms, urine and feces from the animals is mixed with water and held in lagoons that hold millions of gallons and produce massive amounts of air pollution and water pollution harming humans and wildlife. Did you know that it’s estimated that the world’s livestock alone accounts for 18 percent of all greenhouse gases, which is more than all forms of transportation combined? A different study found that it takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. As if all of this isn’t bad enough, the animals are given antibiotics to ward off the diseases caused by these unnatural, unsanitary conditions and hormones to promote faster growth.
Well, isn’t this just a disaster.
This separation of plant and animal production disrupts that natural cycle of renewal. In organic, sustainable farming systems, animal manure is incorporated back into the soil to replenish the nutrients that have been lost. The nutrients from the soil and manure are drawn into the crops as they grow, which are then fed to the animals. Organic farms follow these practices that recycle resources, promote biodiversity, and do not need synthetic genes, pesticides, or fertilizers.
So, how do you know if something is organic? Ask your local farmer or check that the label for a USDA Organic seal. Organic food can be more expensive and more difficult to find, so I’m not asking you to buy only organic. Try buying organic for a few select items, one meal a week, or for part of the year. Just a small change can make a difference.
2. Eat food that’s in season and produced locally when you can.
If you buy something produced locally, chances are you’re eating what’s in season. When you buy food produced nearby, you are supporting your local farmers with sustainable agricultural practices and you are reducing your carbon footprint (by eating food that did not burn fossil fuels to get from the farm to your plate). An added benefit is that your food will be fresher than food shipped across the planet making it more tasty and nutritious. Many of the vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals in produce deteriorate over time, so the less time is sits around after harvest the better.
I suggest buying from your farmer’s market when you can or choosing to receive produce from your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Or learn how to preserve fruits and vegetables so you can eat locally all year long. Challenge yourself to cook one local meal a week!
Where you buy your food is like a vote. Will you vote for sustainably produced food and better farming practices?
3. Grow some of your own food.
Plant a garden in your backyard, grow a pot of tomatoes on the patio, start a herb garden on your indoor windowsill, or join a community garden. You will be eating fresher, more nutritious food that has no negative impact on the environment to grow!
4. Eat less meat and more produce.
Industrially farmed meat has the highest impact of any other food product on the environment (due to the high carbon emissions and water usage used to raise livestock I described above). I’m not saying that meat is bad, but if you eat more plant-based foods, you’ll not only be helping the environment, but consuming more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to keep you healthy!
5. Eat from the pasture.
Animals that are allowed to graze pastures as nature designed them to have less negative environmental impact and are treated more humanely. It’s better for you too! Pasture-raised livestock’s meat and milk generally have higher levels of healthy fats.
6. Buy products with minimal packaging.
Most excess packaging is made through energy-intensive processes and creates hazardous waste and greenhouse gases. Packaging waste fills our landfills and releases toxins into the air during the recycling process.
Look for products with minimal packaging such as unwrapped produce or meat straight from the deli counter. Instead of buying bottled drinks, drink tap water from a reusable water bottle. Not only is this better for the environment, but it is better for your health too because potentially harmful chemicals are released over time from the plastic into the contents of the bottle that we drink from. Water filters are a great way to filter your tap water at home.
Because most processed food is highly packaged, buying and eating less processed food can help reduce waste that ends up in landfills and help your health too. Processed food is typically high in processed flour, processed sugar, salt, and synthetic additives and preservatives.
7. Use reusable shopping bags.
This can help reduce demand for production of plastic bags as well as reduce the amount of waste your household sends to the landfill.
8. Use cloth napkins, reusable utensils, and reusable shopping bags.
Use cloth napkins and towels and real plates, bowls, cups, bottles, and other utensils. This will reduce the demand for production of paper and plastic products and reduce the amount of trash you produce. Just small changes can go a long way!
9. Try composting.
This isn’t for everyone, but if you have the resources to do so, give composting a try. It will turn your food scraps into a resource that keeps on giving instead of adding to the landfill.
10. Double your recipes.
The leftovers from your meals will last you longer and you will use less energy than if you cooked multiple meals.
11. Save your leftovers.
Instead of throwing your leftovers in the landfill or using energy to cook another meal, save your leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer to use later. Get creative and revamp them into a new meal or pair them with different foods.
Guest blog by Katie!
Katie is a former intern at Grass Roots Nutrition and a recent graduate of Miami University with degrees in nutrition and zoology. She is attending the dietetic internship program at Bradley University in order to become a registered dietitian. She loves running, traveling, and cooking healthy recipes with friends and family. Her favorite foods are dark chocolate and cheese!