6 Tips to Eating More Sustainably for Earth Day
1. Delete the Meat!
Meat production is inefficient and environmentally costly: It takes 1,799 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, whereas most vegetable crops require only 38 gallons per pound¹. Cattle ranching has contributed to desertification and a loss of biological diversity, as forest is destroyed to make way for grazing land. The meat industry is also a major polluter, damaging watersheds and producing greenhouse gases. Simply cutting back on your meat consumption can make a difference: make meat a once-in-a-while treat, rather than a staple. When you do buy meat, make sure that it’s sustainably and humanely-raised. Better still, buy it from local producers at your farmer’s market.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a stunning 40% of food in the US is thrown away – 165 billion dollars-worth! Even the most well-meaning and conscientious among us often end up tossing withered carrots, spoiled milk, or moldy bread. Cutting down on waste is an easy and gratifying way to save money and reduce your impact on the earth. Shop with a menu in mind: buy small amounts of perishable foods (meat, dairy, fresh produce) at a time, and use them right away. Certain foods can be processed as soon as you buy them: celery, bell peppers, carrots, leafy greens and other vegetables can be cleaned, cut up and stored for easy snacking or inclusion in recipes. Clean your fridge every week, so you can use what you have before it goes bad.
Most fad diets are just that: fleeting trends that won’t stand the test of time. While the health claims made by proponents of eating gluten-free or “Paleo” are seductive, the truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all diet that will lead to glowing health. Trendy diets often promote over-reliance on one type of food (meat, for instance) or eliminate wholesome, economical ones (whole grains and legumes). Food manufacturers exploit fads to market highly processed, environmentally costly foods (many of which contained refined sugars, starches and hydrogenated oils) as “healthy.” A balanced diet rich in vegetables and low in animal products and refined sugars is easy to follow, environmentally sound, and health-promoting.
Growing a garden lets you enjoy fresh, delicious produce that tastes better than anything you could ever get at the store. It gives you the satisfaction of seeing your efforts bear (literal!) fruit. It also decreases your dependence on a food system that relies, by and large, on fossil fuels to get produce to market.
5. Eat with the Seasons
A peach at the height of summery perfection is fragrant, juicy, and flavorful. The same peach in winter, though, is hard, mealy, and bland, and has probably traveled many miles to get to your plate. Eating food that’s in season where you live lets you choose the highest quality, most nutritious produce, while cutting down on imported foods that come with a heavy fossil fuel cost. Once you start eating fruits and vegetables at their peak, you’ll never want to eat a winter tomato again!
Knowing a few basic cooking techniques – how to make a stock, stir-fry vegetables, cook whole grains, whip up a salad dressing – can help you to reduce your carbon footprint and save you money. Restaurant meals and prepared foods require more water and energy to produce, and entail more waste. When you are at ease in the kitchen, you can find creative uses for leftovers, garden produce, and foods that are in season or on sale.
Emily Klein is a cook and writer who lives in the watery wonderland of Seattle with her dog. Emily finds motivation and inspiration in everyday beauty and simple pleasures, and will never apologize for loving bread. She writes about food and other stuff that captures her roving attention at squidbasedink.com.