When we think of major threats to the environment, many of us imagine vague, impersonal causes like industrial pollution or gillnets. But in reality, the lifestyle choices we make as individuals can have a much larger and direct impact on the planet than we realize – from how we get around to how much electricity we use in our homes. With the 46th annual Earth Day being held this month, theres never been a better time to examine how our eating can affect the world around us – not just locally, but globally. Here are six great ways to eat for the planet while improving your health and nutrition in the process.
- Go organic. When you choose organic-certified products or sustainably grown food, youre not just being trendy – youre supporting production methods that are actually good for the planet. Sustainable farmers use ecologically sound practices to manage pests and weeds. Moreover, they dont rely on artificial fertilizers, which can leave rivers, lakes and even oceans choked with algal growth. By supporting these farmers, youre stimulating the sustainability market and proving the demand for more eco-friendly products and practices.
- Eat the rainbow. No, were not talking about Skittles. Eating fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors means youre getting a range of nutrients, which is exactly what our bodies need in order to thrive. Nutritional biodiversity is also key to ecological health. By choosing whole foods like fruits and vegetables over their processed counterparts, you help promote the importance of sustainable farming.
- Eat local. By supporting local farmers, youre protecting the land in your region from industrialization while strengthening your communitys connection to where your food actually comes from. Going local also means getting the freshest foods available, since youre only eating whats in season. The easiest way to eat local is to visit in-season farmers markets, of which there are currently more than 7,000 registered across the country. Not only do farmers markets offer a way to support local agriculture, they provide a great outdoor activity for the weekend. Meanwhile, apps like LocalEats make it easy to find local dining options wherever you are.
- Watch your waste. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, as much as 40 percent of food produced in the US goes uneaten. That means almost half the energy, water and land used in farming is wasted. Whats worse, the food that ends up in landfills contributes to emissions of methane, a potent and highly destructive greenhouse gas. When you go food shopping, try not to buy more than youll actually eat – and be wary of expiration dates. The same goes for ordering in restaurants. On top of saving the planet, youll save money by cutting down on the amount of food you buy.
- Just say no to packaged foods. The packaging of food — and the bottling of water in plastic bottles — has a huge environmental impact. The Container Recycling Institute reports that in the US alone, more than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away each day. You can substantially reduce your ecological footprint by thinking twice before you reach for that plastic cup or bottled water, or put a prepackaged snack pack in your childs lunch. By purchasing reusable products such as glass water bottles, you can reduce or eliminate your need to constantly buy more disposable products. When its absolutely necessary to use plastic containers, be sure to recycle as much of the materials as you can. Another way to help is by supporting local and national measures to curb excess packaging and encourage reuse and recycling. Some states offer incentives for recycling, so check with your local government to potentially save more money.
- Go meatless on Mondays. Industrial meat and dairy operations are incredibly energy-intensive, from the production of feed to the operation of factories and slaughterhouses to processing and shipping. The Environmental Working Group estimates that if everyone in the US cut out meat and dairy products just one day a week, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would be equal to taking 7.6 million cars off the road.