Eating The Planet | how our food choices effect the environment
In the past decade, diets and eating trends have exploded in the american mainstream. Everyone is trying something new or has some kind sensitivity to a common food. Our lives have begun to revolve around the management of our eating habits as we become more obsessed and invested in our own, and our families diets. While we have become fixated on our diets and how they can improve our health or help us reach fitness goals, we are losing sight of the impact we are having on the world around us.
Once in awhile we read an insightful article or watch a documentary or film that makes us think about our choices. We see what is happening to the oceans, what happens to animals on industrial farms, the impact of large-scale farming on small business and the environment, and watch as precious land is destroyed to feed our ever increasing appetite for “exotic”, “super”, and “ancient” foods. It can seem like such a massive issue that we may feel helpless to make a difference and thus continue with the convenience of our preferred lifestyle.
Today I want to help raise your awareness of how some recent diet trends in the US are having a detrimental impact on the environment. I also want to talk about how you can make some small changes to help slow this process and become part of the solution.
To begin, we must talk about meat.
Recent diet trends like “high protein” “low carb” and “Paleo diet” have had a major impact on meat consumption in America. The overall consumption of chicken, pork, and beef rose faster between 2012 and 2016 than it did in the past four decades, and with it the production of meat and other animal products (1). Fitness trends have played a role in this increase as well with more american’s adapting to lifestyles that they feel are healthy and active, and thus require more protein.
Unfortunately while american’s are trying to “get lean”, the effect of meat production on the environment is spiraling out of control. A recent study by the Environmental Working Group showed that the production of red meat produces 10 to 40 times the amount of greenhouse gasses as the production of vegetables and grains (1). Antibiotic and pesticide contamination, high use of fossil fuels, excessive water use, and mass deforestation are some of the horrific byproducts of meat production. The risks to clean and sustainable land, water, and air are increasing at an alarming rate.
Besides the impact of high meat consumption on the environment, research has shown some pretty serious health risks associated with too much animal protein as well. Researchers at Harvard, Berkeley School of Medicine, and Cornell University have all reported links between high meat consumption and colon cancer, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and osteoporosis. Dr T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University and the author of The China Study proved in his research that too much meat is the precursor to nearly all modern degenerative disease. Nothing provides more evidence of this then the epidemic of degenerative and preventable diseases in America and the correlation with high meat consumption.
So what is too much meat? A DAILY serving of meat is 3 ounces and this will provide all the essential amino acids for a healthy adult with extra protein coming from other sources. Most american’s are eating way more than this and have 2-3 portions of meat with each meal. While meat seems to be an easy way to stock up on that holy source of protein, there is plenty to eat without choosing meat 😉
What you can do:
- Reduce your daily intake of meat and animal products like dairy, eggs, and fish to 1-2 servings
- Explore other protein options from the plant kingdom. Pst….plants can also provide all essential amino acids…. Incomplete protein is a myth.
- Buy meat from sustainable and bio-diverse producers and only in the portions needed for you and your family
- Try meatless days or save meat eating to one meal of the day
- Just give it up and see how you feel
Next we will talk about convenience foods and waste production
We all fall victim to an empty fridge and empty tummy with easy access to an app that can delivery all our hopes and dreams wrapped up and ready to eat. Since 2008 more american’s are ordering takeout than ever before. There are so many options and with the convenience of it we don’t stop to think how often we have to take out the trash as it fills with boxes, wrappers, and plastics ware.
According to the Worldwatch Institute, the global rate of plastic waste disposal has been steadily increasing since 2013. In 2015 over 297.5 million tons of plastic was tossed into landfills and eventually ended up in the oceans. Americans drink an estimated 400 million cups of coffee per day with the vast majority served in disposable cups that get tossed after one use. In 2001 in the US the rough estimate for the percentage of plastic waste that came from takeout food was around 32%. Today that percentage is rapidly increasing each year as takeout becomes more accessible and strives to meet the needs of the health conscious (2).
There is also a new eating trend that has been gaining traction with health conscious consumers and has more plastic going to the landfill. Healthy, portioned, delivered to your door, or available for pick-up meals to help you “eat clean” has become the new wave of takeout. New companies are popping up every day promising an easy way to eat healthy without the hassles of planning meals. Each meal comes wrapped in its individual portioned packaging, often in a heavily insulated box with ice, and after each serving a mound of plastic and cardboard goes in the trash or recycling bin. While this may seem like an easy way to stay on a healthy eating plan it has a terrible effect on the environment as a single person can produce several ounces of plastic per meal.
What you can do:
- Plan and prep your own meals in reusable containers to eat at home or take to work.
- Limit your takeout food to once a week and try to order from restaurants that use biodegradable food packaging and skip the napkins and plastic ware.
- Take a reusable cup to your favorite coffee shop instead of using disposable cups.
- Pay attention to your waste and how many gallons of garbage you and your family throw out each week and set goals and limits.
We all want to eat clean and healthy, we want to have a lean and strong body, and we want to eat what we think will help us achieve that. In our pursuit of healthy living we also need to take the time to consider how our individual choices impact the environment and the safety of this planet. Small changes do make a difference and what you eat is part of a bigger picture. It doesn’t take much to consider the planet for a moment next time you’re packing your lunch.
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