Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2020 issue.
Eating in a way that nourishes our bodies while caring for the earth can seem daunting at times. Below are five ways you can change how you shop, what you eat and how you clean up that can make a difference.
CHOOSE PRODUCE, BEANS AND LEGUMES.
We’ve probably all been told to eat our vegetables (and fruits). What our parents were telling us was not only good for our bodies, but also good for the earth. Vegan and vegetarian diets produce smaller carbon footprints than diets that include animal products. Meats from ruminants (cows, goats and sheep) produce the highest carbon footprints of animal products. If you want to include animal proteins in your eating, choose chicken, pork and fish. The World Resources Institute estimates that for every gram of protein, beef production beef uses 20 times the land and emits 20 times the emissions as producing beans. Choosing protein sources with smaller carbon footprints makes a difference with each meal.
BUY LOCAL OR CLOSE TO YOU.
Look for local vendors for your produce and meats. For example, you could join a local CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture). Shop at farmer’s markets. If you eat animal-based meats, buy part of an animal from a local farmer. You can also split CSA boxes and other purchases with friends and neighbors. You’ll be supporting local farmers and having your food take a shorter trip from the farm to your table.
Buying organic produce helps reduce the amount of synthetic pesticides used; if you buy local you can talk to the farmer to see what they use for fertilizer and pest control. It is safer for the farm workers who are not exposed to these pesticides. Pesticides used when growing produce can also impact air and water quality. However, organic produce can be expensive. I use the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen as a starting point for choosing what to buy organic versus conventional. In general, if it has a peel that I don’t eat, I’ll buy conventional.
DITCH THE LANDFILL.
When we started composting, I was floored at how much food scraps we have. Now, rather than these scraps going into the landfill, they go into the compost pile and then on our landscaping. Check out different ways to compost, including using worms to compost (fun for the kids!) to having a compost bin that is turned occasionally. Some local trash companies are starting composting programs, too.
GROW YOUR OWN.
Growing your own produce means that it doesn’t have to travel to get to your table. Or, if it does, the trip is a short one. You can also control the methods used including whether or not you choose to use fertilizers or pesticides. If you have space, you can setup raised beds and fill them with produce you love. Depending on your level of commitment and space, you can make the beds as small or large as you want. Many communities have community gardens that provide raised beds for minimal cost for those who don’t have space for them.
If you want to grow produce in your home, there are several innovative companies with growing methods optimized for small space. Aggressively Organic provides kits that allow you to grow all sorts of produce in minimal amounts of space. There is also the AeroGarden and similar products that help you grow produce in small spaces. If you don’t have a horizontal place to grow your produce, there are lots of ways to grow them vertically on a wall.
If all of this is overwhelming, but you want to give it a try, you can start with a couple of pots and some herbs of your choice. For example, rosemary and mint are two hardy plants that are hard to kill (trust me, I can grow them). Not only will you have fresh herbs when you want them, you won’t have to buy those tiny plastic boxes of them anymore.
Loving the planet and nourishing our bodies doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. It is an AND choice. Every choice you make makes a difference. You don’t have to cut out all red meat if you’ve been raised with it as a main part of your eating. How about starting to make a different choice than red meat at one meal a week? How about choosing to make one meal a week based on beans or legumes? Or, if you want something more ambitious, you could jump on Meatless Mondays and make Monday (or any other day of the week) all vegetarian or vegan meals. If you want vegetarian and vegan recipe ideas, check out allrecipes.com or meatlessmonday.com.
Photo by Brooke Lark.