Eat Green, Help Our Environment

Eat Green: Our Everyday Food Choices Affect Our Environment and Global Warming

What we eat matters. The food choices we make every day have a big effect on our environment. The good news is that even small changes in what we buy and eat can add up to real environmental benefits, including fewer toxic chemicals, reduced global warming emissions and preservation of our ocean resources. Eating “green” can also mean eating fresher, healthier foods while reducing your grocery bill and supporting local farmers.

It’s easy to overlook the environmental impacts of food because they are spread across all stages of a long process. From farm to fork, food production, processing and transportation, can accumulate enormous amounts of energy, water and chemicals. To address this, we offer the following suggestions to help you and your family make healthier and smarter choices:

Choose Climate-Friendly Food. Food that comes from the top of the food chain or arrives to your plate after extensive processing, tends to require more energy and thus have a much higher environmental impact. The “carbon footprint” of a burger, for example, includes all of the fossil fuels that went into the production of fertilizers, pumping irrigation water to grow the corn/soy that fed the cow, and may also include emissions that result from converting forest land to grazing land. Meat from ruminant animals (i.e., cows, goats, and sheep) has a particularly large carbon footprint because of the methane (a potent global warming gas) released from the animals’ digestion and manure. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that if all Americans eliminated just one quarter pound (110 gr) serving of beef per week, the reduction in global warming gas emissions would be equivalent to taking four to six million cars off the road. Seafood can also contribute to significant global warming pollution. Open-ocean fishing fleets depend entirely on dirty fossil fuels, emitting an estimated 130 million tons of CO2 each year. Highly sought-after large fish stocks like tuna and swordfish are more likely to be overfished, resulting in additional sea travels and thus more global warming pollution. Also, tuna and swordfish contain high levels of methyl-mercury, which can be harmful to human health and especially embryos.

What you can do:

  1. Eat from the lower ranks of the food chain by adding more fruits, vegetables, and grains to your diet and limiting your intake of red meat. This can reduce your risk of coronary disease and colorectal cancer, while it can reduce your grocery bill as well.
  2. Choose locally caught, sustainable managed fish or herbivorous farmed stocks.
  3. Look for fresh foods with the fewest process steps from farm to plate. Freezing, packaging, processing, cooking, and refrigerating food, all increase energy use. One study reports that bringing home a frozen bag of carrots has nearly three times the associated global warming pollution relative to purchasing a fresh local bunch.

Buy Organic Products. Eco-labels like USDA Organic and others give us a way to reward environmental performance in the marketplace. Organic agriculture, for example, is a safer choice for your family and the environment primarily because organic growers don’t use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Pesticide use degrades air and water quality, while it threatens the health of agriculture workers, farmers, and the surrounding communities. Organic agriculture is also often better than conventional agriculture in reducing global warming pollution.

What you can do:

  1. Buy organic and other certified foods when you can.
  2. Cultivate your own garden for fresh produce.

Watch Your Waste. The USDA estimates that an astonishing 27 percent of all food (by weight) produced for people in the United States is either thrown away or is used for a lower-value purpose, like animal feed. A recent study estimated that the average household wastes 14 percent of its food purchases—a loss of significant value for most families. In addition to the water, energy, pesticides, and global warming pollution that went into producing, packaging, and transporting this discarded food, nearly all of this waste ends up in landfills where it releases even more heat-trapping gas in the form of methane as it decomposes.

What you can do:

  1. Purchase foods that you can consume before they expire. This way you can help minimize food waste and safe some money as well.
  2. Compost your food waste, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the need for synthetic fertilizer.

Eat Locally. A typical meal contains ingredients from five foreign countries, and even domestically grown produce travels an average of 1,500 miles before it is sold. Buying locally can help reduce the pollution and energy use associated with transporting, storing and refrigerating this food—that’s especially true for food that is imported by airplane, including perishables such as cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, and asparagus. NRDC estimates that the smog-forming emissions from importing fruits and vegetables are equivalent to the annual emissions from 1.5 million cars.

What you can do:

  1. Choose local food options whenever possible and avoid purchasing food imported by airplane. But keep in mind that the type of food and how it was produced may be of greater environmental significance.

To conclude, by simply changing what we buy, what we cook and how we cook it, we can make the change we want to see and lead the way forward towards a better and healthier environment. Let’s give it a try!

Source: The Natural Resources Defense Council ( NRDC )

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