Everyone’s heard the cliché “you are what you eat.” And, it’s true – your health is intimately connected to the foods and drinks you put in your body. But, have you ever stopped to consider what other impacts your food choices may have? Industrial farming practices can cause soil and water pollution. Over-packaged,single-size foods result in litter and plastic waste that will linger in landfills for hundreds of years. The average American meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to fork increasing air pollution and greenhouse gases. Human health is affected by what we eat, but planetary health is affected by how we eat.
Luckily, we don’t have to sacrifice either health or the environment. As we approach Earth Day, take a moment to consider your eating habits and try the easy (and affordable) tips below.
1. Eat a healthier snack like a USDA Certified organic apple.
Organic certification guarantees that the product has been grown, handled and processed without synthetic pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, artificial ingredients, preservatives and without using genetic modification or irradiation. Organic certification also means the farmer is promoting biological diversity by rotating crops, conserving and renewing the soil, and protecting water sources.
2. Ease up on animal fats.
Conventional meat and dairy products can contain hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, which concentrate in animal fat. Also, animal waste produces air and water pollution and red meat production creates about 3.5 times more greenhouse gases than that of grains. Making even one vegetarian meal a week can make a big difference. When you do buy meat, use these tips to find your safest options.
3. Ban the can.
Canned foods and beverages could be lined with a resin that contains bisphenol-A, a hormone-disrupting chemical that’s building up in our environment and our bodies. Look for BPA-free cans orfoods that are fresh, dried or frozen or packaged in glass jars or tetra packs.
4. Select safer seafood.
Fish can be contaminated with methylmercury, a potentneurotoxicant, and carcinogenic PCBs. In addition, many commercial fishingpractices damage the aquatic ecosystems by depleting fish stocks to dangerous levels. Worldwide about 90% of large predatory fish stocks are already gone. Use the Environmental Defense Fund’s Safe Seafood Selector to find species that are lowest in contamination and that are fished in ways that are not harmful to our oceans.
5. Bulk up.
It’s common knowledge that buying in bulk saves money, but it also reduces waste because there’s so much less packaging. In addition, bulk foods are often less processed so you reduce your exposure to questionable food additives. Bulk cook staples like beans and other legumes and store them in your freezer in serving sizes that are appropriate for your family size.
6. Turn on your tap.
Plastic bottled water is over-priced, over packaged, and not necessarily cleaner than tap. In fact, municipal tap water is more regulated than bottled water and some bottled water is just tap water with a clever name. It’s awaste of your money that creates enormous amounts of waste. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “In 2006, the equivalent of 2 billion half-liter bottles of water were shipped to U.S. ports, creating thousands of tons of global warming pollution and other air pollution. And while the bottles come from far away, most of them end up close to home – in a landfill. Most bottled watercomes in recyclable PET plastic bottles, but only about 13 percent of the bottleswe use get recycled. In 2005, 2 million tons of plastic water bottles ended upclogging landfills instead of getting recycled.” Make an investment in a water filter and reusable stainless steel water bottles.
7. Purge plastic.
Plastics are clogging our landfills and polluting our Oceans. In regards to human health, studies are piling up showing how chemicals leach from many plastics and end up in our food and drinks. For your food, glass isthe safest bet and extremely affordable. Most second-hand stores have loads of glassware and old spaghetti or canning jars are super for storing leftovers.
8. Read a food label – for real.
Ever stop to read the ingredients label on packaged, processed foods? It’s usually a mouthful of words most of us have a hard time pronouncing, so what exactly are you eating? You can learn which food additives are safe and which are not by visiting The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s food safety guide, but it’s even easier to simply choose whole foods. Whole foods are not processed, so they have all their natural nutritional gifts – and less processing means less pollution. Make more foods from scratch (it’s easier than you think). You’ll end up saving money, eating healthier and reducing pollution.
9. Look for local.
Food from local farms is fresher and closer to ripeness, has used less energy for transport and is less likely to have been treated with post-harvest pesticides. Ask for local produce, meat and dairy at your market andsee what they show you. Better yet, visit your local farmer’s market. You’ll besupporting your community, saving money, protecting the planet, and eating healthier. Visit EatWellGuide.org to discover your local food system.
10. Savor your flavors!
When was the last time you really experienced your food? From the crisp juiciness of a fresh apple to the creamy, cool sweetness of a spoonful of ice cream, are you really tasting what you put in your mouthor are you thoughtlessly inhaling? We’ve become so accustomed to fast food(whether at home or at the drive-thru), we’ve nearly lost the ability to appreciate our culinary bounty. When we eat without thinking, we’re more apt to choose foods that are less healthy and to overeat whatever we’ve slopped onto our plate (if it even made it on to a dish). Take a moment to savor the flavor, to think about where your food came from, and to feel a little gratitude.
Learn more about making food fast, frugal, fun and eco-friendly at Eat Healthy.