In honor of Earth Day I wanted to write about reducing our carbon footprint through our food choices. I suppose in reality I'm always wanting to write about mindful food choices, but Earth Day provides an occasion.
I've been hearing and reading a lot lately about a "low carbon diet" and find myself wondering in which sense do they mean "diet". A diet can be defined as a selection and limitation of what a person eats - diet as in weight loss plan. Or a diet can be defined as the whole of a person or group's food choices and habits- diet as in food culture.
I've been considering whether the "low carbon diet" is being perceived as merely a new set of limitations, which will inevitably have its nay-sayers. Or will it become the next fad diet to sweep the nation, which wouldn't be so bad, except that fads fade, coming and going without much longevity. And that would be unfortunate.
I am hopeful that the "low carbon diet" is a sign of the changing times, and a change in our food culture.
I'm no stranger to dieting, in the "selections and limitations" sense. Although I dislike the connotations of the word, mostly because it implies something that is temporary, short lived, and not sustainable. As someone who has struggled with my weight since puberty, I am always hyper-aware of my food choices with a mind towards not gaining- not too many calories, not too much fat, not too much sugar. Likewise, as a runner I find myself concerned with an appropriate amount of protein and carbohydrates to fuel my runs, and I make food choices based on my weekly mileage and training schedule. And as someone who is concerned with the state of our environment and committed to reducing my personal impact on the earth, I've made food choices based on good stewardship. What all this means is I don't do diets. But I am mindful of my food choices and I do my best to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Now, as I said earlier, I've been hearing a lot about the "low carbon diet", which I believe isn't really a diet at all, but rather a change in lifestyle, a set of choices, and a way of eating that can be embraced and committed to for the long haul. Turns out, I've been living the "low carbon diet" for some time now. And I can say this - whether your goal is to shed a few pounds, or to fuel your athleticism, or to reduce your carbon footprint, the following choices are good ones.
Eat less meat and cheese - Livestock operations account for 18% of carbon emissions. That's more than transportation. I love cheese and I honestly couldn't imagine a world without cheese. This is where making "better" choices comes into play. Eating less is not the same as eating none. We don't need meat at every meal, nor even every day. When you do have meat and cheese on your plate why not make it local, and grass-fed. Visit your local farmer's market and buy your meats from a farmer you can get to know and trust. Small farms with pastured animals have much less effect on the environment than the giant feed lots. Buying local also reduces trucking and its negative effects.
Eat what's in season - out of season, tropical, and exotic fruits and vegetables are often transported thousands of miles. Consider also the mode of transportation, highly perishable foods like fruits and fish are often transported by aircraft which has a much larger carbon footprint than ground transport. Eating seasonally goes hand in hand with eating locally.
Waste less food - 3% of the energy used in this country is used to produce food we waste. Not food we eat, food we throw away. How to waste less - eat your left overs- pack them in your lunch, or cook them in new foods, left over veggies make a great addition to a fritatta. Preparing smaller portions will also reduce your waste. And finally compost what you don't eat. Those peels and cores aren't really wasted if they are later used to feed your garden.
Cook at home - restaurant portions are most often over-sized meaning we either over-eat which is bad for us, or we waste the food which is also bad for us. Eating out also means you are no longer in control of your food choices, have they trucked in the produce? Are they buying factory raised beef? Do they even recycle?
Eat real food - whole foods are always best, they are the healthiest choices, packing the most nutritional bang for the caloric buck. Avoid overly processed and overly packaged foods.
These five simple choices can have a significant impact on both your waistline and your carbon footprint. They are choices that anyone can make, and constitute principles that are easy to stick with.
And just as everyday can be Earth Day, so too can we all be living a "low carbon diet" and making food choices that lead to better health for ourselves and our planet.
Happy Earth Day! Eat Well!