Earth Day: Make Better Food Choices

Agriculture

Agriculture (Photo credit: thegreenpages)

As the world celebrates Earth Day (April 22), sustainable food and agriculture systems can play a big role in preserving the environment by helping to improve soil health, protecting biodiversity, and mitigating climate change.

Earth Day is a great opportunity for eaters, farmers, and food businesses to make changes in their diets, shopping habits, and production practices that will promote sustainable, healthy food throughout the year.

Agriculture contributes to nearly 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. And the environmental damage brought on by the agricultural sector poses significant threats to the industry itself.

But there’s a better way to produce — and eat — food.

The rise of processed foods and a push for high-yield, single-crop farms, is leading to not only soil degradation and water scarcity, but also unhealthy consumers.

The time to act is now — and the good news is that breakfast, lunch and dinner are all easy places to start making a difference. Being aware of the environmental costs that unsustainable farming and eating practices can have on the environment, and making food choices accordingly, can help to fight climate change and protect the environment.

This year Food Tank: The Food Think Tank is celebrating the ways everyone can protect the planet, on Earth Day, and every day this year.

1. Eat more colors

The colors of fruits and vegetables are signs of nutritional content. A richly-colored red tomato has high levels of carotenoids such as lycopene, which the American Cancer Society reports can help prevent cancer, as well as heart disease. The relationship between nutrients and color is also true for other foods. Eggs that have brightly orange-colored yolks are also high in cancer-fighting carotenoids, and are more likely to be produced by healthier chickens.

2. Buy food with less packaging

Discarded packaging makes up around one-third of non-industrial solid waste in industrialized countries, with negative impacts on the climate, and air and water quality. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s analysis of different packaging for tomatoes found that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) clamshell packaging increases tomatoes’ associated carbon emissions by 10 percent. The most effective way to limit the impact of packaging waste is to prevent it. Choosing foods with less packaging can also be better for our waistlines, since highly processed foods that are low in nutrients generally use more packaging than more healthful, less processed options.

3. Choose seasonal produce

Earth Day offers a great opportunity to bring more seasonal fruits and vegetables into diets. Many farmers markets, including the New York City Greenmarkets, offer guides about which products are in season. Locally sourced, seasonal products can also be found at major grocery stores. Another way to get seasonal foods is to sign up for a weekly CSA, which provides a mix of fresh, seasonal produce throughout the year. Other programs, such as Siren Fish Co.’s SeaSA in San Francisco, offer seasonal meats and seafood.

4. Get in touch with agriculture

This time of year, many people are starting to plan vacations. A great way to skip the crowds, save money, and get both children and adults in touch with agriculture is to book a farm-stay through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). WWOOF runs networks in most countries around the world, offering individuals and families the opportunity to directly support small-scale family farmers. Participants spend a few days or weeks living with a host family and helping with tasks around the farm in exchange for free food and lodging.

5. Get creative in the kitchen

Shopping at farmers markets, which often have a wide selection of less-ordinary produce such as celeriac, sunchokes, or kohlrabi, can prevent “food ruts” by helping consumers try new foods. When looking for inspiration, many popular recipe blogs, such as smitten kitchen, allow users to search by ingredient, as well as season. Publications such as Diet for a Small Planet and The Boston Globe’s new Sunday Supper and More e-cookbook series also offer tips on reusing leftovers to reduce food waste.

For more ways to preserve the environment and your health through food, visit the Food Tank.

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