Is Your Diet Good For The Environment?

Jori Hamilton is a writer from the pacific northwest who is passionate about environmentalism and social justice issues. You can follow her on Twitter @HamiltonJori

Posted on Tuesday 24th September 2019
Fresh fruits and vegetables stored in a basket

Chances are that you choose the foods you eat based on how they’ll benefit your health. Plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits can help with weight management, energy, and even immune system support, but they also have an important impact on the environment. 

Considering the impact of your diet on the environment may be a new approach, but it’s an important one to take in the face of global warming. Today’s food industry has largely shifted to large producers whose farms are more like factories, and this production model has serious implications on the environment. With a few dietary changes, you can help to minimize the impact your food choices have on factors like global warming.

The Impact of Eating Meat

Eating meat has a significant negative impact on the environment. Producing, processing, and distributing meat consumes large amounts of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, and water. Livestock consume corn and grains that first have to be grown and harvested. The process of growing feed for livestock creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that’s even more harmful than carbon dioxide. Then, we need to take into account the methane gas that animals like cattle produce. Additional fuel is consumed in transporting animals to processing plants and in powering the machinery used for processing. Finally, meat needs to be kept cool and transported again to grocery stores, which again consumes fuel and generates carbon dioxide. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to give up meat altogether. Instead, shift your diet to focus more on fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods, but still feel free to enjoy meat on occasion. Vegetarian diets require half the land needed to create a meat-based diet, and vegetarian diets also emit about half the greenhouse gases as those caused by a typical American diet that includes meat. 

When you do eat meat, choose your meats wisely. Beef production is one of the more environmentally harmful types of meat production. Pork and poultry production has less of an impact on the environment, so eat these meats instead of beef when you can. 

Eating Locally Sourced Foods

Try to make sure that the foods you do eat are locally sourced. When foods are shipped hundreds or thousands of miles, the shipping consumes fuel and releases greenhouse gases. Those apples that you buy at the grocery store may have come from across the country, whereas a trip to your local orchard could yield apples that have been locally grown and that didn’t require any of that fuel or transportation. 

Foods that are shipped long distances also need to be packed, and that adds to waste. Prepared meal kits are a prime example of this. Prepared meal kits often include small amounts of ingredients, like oils, whereas you could reduce wasted packaging by buying these ingredients in larger volumes at a store. These kits are also shipped long distances, so the ingredients they contain won’t be local. 

Eating local isn’t difficult to accomplish. Buy your fruits and vegetables at farm stands or farmer’s markets, and consider getting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription. You can also join a meat share or shop at a local co-op so that you’re able to select locally produced foods, or try growing your own vegetables at home. When you do eat out, look for restaurants that source their ingredients locally. 

Environmentally-Friendly Farming

In addition to choosing locally sourced foods, you can further modify your diet by eating foods that have been grown in sustainable ways. Clean-tech farming is an evolving trend in which farmers use technology to grow crops indoors while prioritizing the environment. This new farming technique is both chemical- and pesticide-free, and best of all, it’s also affordable and sustainable.

If there aren’t any clean-tech farming sites near you yet, look for organic foods instead. Not only does organic farming avoid the use of pesticides which can contaminate water, air, and soil, but organic farming helps to create healthy soil that can support future crops. Organic farming helps to preserve natural habitats for animals like birds and predators, too.

The Rodale Institute performed a 30-year study of the effects of organic farming. This study revealed that organic farming uses 45% less energy than traditional farming. Organic farming also produced 40% fewer greenhouse gases than traditional farming. When you buy organic, you’re supporting this environmentally friendly farming method. 

Wide-Reaching Effects of Diet Change

Making these alterations in your diet may seem like minor changes, but they can have wide-reaching results. For instance, the United States has been dealing with an obesity epidemic for years. By working with your healthcare provider to change what you eat so that you’re consuming more fruits and vegetables and less meat, you can both support the environment and have a positive impact on your own health. 

Climate change has resulted in many public health problems, including undernutrition and food security. Extreme temperatures threaten crops, and that problem is likely to increase as temperatures continue to climb. By supporting active farmers and encouraging clean-tech farming in your location, you can do your part to reduce the impact of your diet on the environment and help ensure a healthy environment for future generations. 

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