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Seven Ways to Change the World by Eating

Updated on October 6, 2010

You are what you you eat, and so, people are realizing more and more, is the planet. These tips will help you eat a diet that is healthier for both you and the planet.

1. Eat locally grown foods in season.

Sure you can get strawberries in the middle of December, but is it worth it? Foods bought in season are generally cheaper and tastier than those bought out of season.

Furthermore, eating locally produced foods in season is dramatically better for environment. Most produce in the USA is picked 4 to 7 days before being placed on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1500 miles before being sold. Most out of season foods are shipped even farther - often from Central or South America. One sample basket of imported organic produce could release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as an average four bedroom household does through cooking meals for eight months. The same basket of non-organic imported produce would release even more CO2 because non-organic food uses more energy in the production process: for example, the energy used to make and transport the chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in its production. Non-organic milk, for example, needs five times more energy per cow than organic milk.

2. Buy organic foods and free range animal products.

Chemical pesticides and fertilizers used on crops are a major threat to human and environmental health, while the spread of antibiotic resistant disease strains is believed to be expedited by "factory farming" techniques in which animals are overcrowded and under-cared-for while being kept healthy by large doses of antibiotics in their daily feed. Organic farming relies on time honored farming techniques such as crop rotation and diversification to protect against pests and diseases, and free range animals stay healthy without constant antibiotic use. Buying organic is also more like to mean buying locally produced food from small, family farms.

Vote for a Free Range Future

3. Shop at a Farmer's Market

By shopping at a farmer's market, you are directly supporting a local family farm and are more likely to keep the money within your community. You also have more control over your food choices - if you know the farmer, you can find out what pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics were used produce the food, if any. (Small family farmers who sell at farmer's markets are more likely to raise organic crops and free-range livestock.)

4. Grow a garden.

Growing a garden is both a relaxing hobby and a way to teach yourself and others about the rhythms of nature, the amount of work needed to put food on the table, and where food comes from (some of the funniest and saddest jokes passed around the farming and gardening communities concern city kids who, for example, don't know that potatoes or carrots grow underground or who seriously believe that hamburgers grow on trees.) Homegrown crops, especially tomatoes, almost invariably taste better than those purchased at the grocery store as well.

Photo by hoyasmeg
Photo by hoyasmeg

5. Eat less meat.

Notice I didn't say "Become Vegetarian." I love shrimp, chicken, and lamb too much to turn vegetarian myself, but I rarely cook meat at home and when I do, use it more as a condiment than the focus point of a meal. I nearly always use organic, free range animal products because I know that the animals have been treated more humanely than the poor victims of factory farm agriculture.

Eating lots of meat is also bad for the environment. Producing 1 pound of feedlot beef requires 7 pounds of feed grain, which takes 7000 pounds of water to grow. One hamburger causes 55 square feet of rain forest destruction (for tropically raised beef) and 12 pounds of livestock feces and other pollutants. The amount of water required to raise one steer to market weight, including both the water he himself consumes and the water used to irrigate the grain he is fed in the feedlot, is enough to float a supertanker. Worldwide, livestock now produce 130 times as much waste as people do. Livestock waste disposal is often unregulated or unenforced and improper disposal of livestock waste has been linked to many human and environmental health disasters. In short, eating red meat uses 20 times the land, and causes seven times the common water pollution, five times the toxic water pollution and water use, and three times the greenhouse gas emissions as eating a vegetable, fruit, and grain based diet. Finally, a diet heavy in red meat has been linked to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases.

For the dedicated carnivore, eating grass-fed meat, dairy, and eggs is one way to reduce the environmental impacts of meat eating. Grass-fed animal products are also healthier for you, with higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol than conventionally raised meat, eggs, and dairy.

6. Eat more "slow food."

The highly processed food sold by many fast food restaurants is probably not local and has been so processed that it has lost most of its nutritional value. Excessive fast food consumption in the US is considered a primary cause of the current epidemic of obesity. Eating fast food also robs your family of the the quality time required to prepare and consume a good meal.

Slow Food in a Fast World

Rare Jacob Lamb, by just chaos
Rare Jacob Lamb, by just chaos

7. Support biodiversity.

Around the world, the diversity of our food supplies is slipping. About 7,000 plant species have been cultivated and collected for food by humans since agriculture began about 12,000 years ago. Today, only about 15 plant species and 8 animal species supply 90% of our food. In many of these species only a handful of varieties are responsible for the vast majority of production. For example, in the 1920s more than 60 breeds of chickens were raised on farms across the United States. Today, one hybrid chicken, the Cornish Rock cross, supplies nearly all the supermarket chicken meat, while White Leghorns lay almost all the white eggs.

Industrialized farming is primarily responsible for this staggering loss of biodiversity. Industrial farms select for high production levels and ease of transport - often ignoring other factors such as hardiness, disease resistance, foraging efficiency (livestock only), and using chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics to make up the difference. Relying so heavily on a few varieties of a few species for so high a percentage of our food supply leaves us vulnerable to disasters such as the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840's. Millions of people starved and millions more fled the country because the Irish diet had become dependant on a single variety of potato . . . which just happened to be highly susceptible to black rot. Whenever possible, buy unusual varieties of vegetables and fruits and meat, milk, and eggs from heirloom animal species. (Often available at farmers markets.) If you have a garden or farm, raise heirloom varieties of plants and animals.

Guardians of the Seed

Comments

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    • onegoodwoman profile image

      onegoodwoman 

      7 years ago from A small southern town

      Haha! Cornbread! I about starved to death in Cajun country......

      Mother Earth has been on my favorites list a long time, check out Backwoods Home Magazine for some more good reading.

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR

      kerryg 

      7 years ago from USA

      Hi onegoodwoman, thanks for the thoughtful comment!

      *g* I live in the Midwest, where locally grown food is pretty much limited to corn, soybeans, beef, and pork. In fact, the only farms around here that grow *anything* that can just be washed off and popped in the mouth as is are the small, organic farms.

      You're certainly right that all foods cannot be realistically grown in all regions, but I think one of the goals of the local food movement is to help people rediscover local food traditions. It's not asking people to give up things like dates and figs, but to regard them as a special treat, not as something that we should necessarily have access to 24/7, 365 days a year. Meanwhile, local farms can diversify to a wider variety of crops. Mother Earth News has a great series on what vegetables grow best in each region and when they should be planted: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/W...

      As you can see, the Midwest could be growing far more than 4 different crops!

      Slow Food USA also has an interesting program called Renewing America's Food Traditions that is trying to bring back some of the former food traditions of North America and get people to think more regionally when planing their diet. They have a really interesting pamphlet about the "Bison Nation," where I live, talking about some of the native foods of the region, such as the Jerusalem Artichoke, prairie turnip, and American groundnut.

      http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/deta...

      http://www.slowfoodusa.org/downloads/raft/Bison.pd...

      There is also an interesting book highlighting some of the food traditions from all the different food "nations":

      http://www.amazon.com/Renewing-Americas-Food-Tradi...

      I'm not sure which region of the South you're from, but you may be part of "Cornbread Nation," "Chestnut Nation," "Crabcake Nation," or "Gumbo Nation."

    • onegoodwoman profile image

      onegoodwoman 

      7 years ago from A small southern town

      This is a topic of personal interest to me, and I enjoyed your presentation.

      Eating locally produced and diversity, do not, go hand in hand easily.

      All plants and animals have a native area. I live in the south, where agriculture, poultry and beef reign suprmeme, but I will not find ( and certainly not at an affordable price ) buffalo, organic olives or dates. While eating goat is the norm in Middle Eastern countries, it is relatively unheard of here, it is associated being be backwards or redneck if you must!

      Let's make the most of what is readily available, and have an occassional treat with the rest.

      People will benefit from your hub, I just wanted to point out that all things are not available everywhere, in a fresh state. (No need to add pressure to our healthy minded cooks.)

    • pinkhawk profile image

      pinkhawk 

      8 years ago from Pearl of the Orient

      ...very usefrul article! I should change my eating lifestyle now.. thank you for posting this, very helpful.. ^.^

    • Staci-Barbo7 profile image

      Staci-Barbo7 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      The video Vote For a Free Range Future is compelling.  It shows us that we have an important vote in how the animals we eat are treated while they are being raised for our dinner table. 

      It's interesting to note that animal welfare agencies would not allow the same conditions for dogs and cats in a private home that they allow for the animals raised on feedlots.   An owner of domestic animals who treats his pets the way the feedlot animals are being treated - particularly with regard to so many animals in such a confined area and the presence of so much poop in the area where they are housed - would risk arrest and conviction for animal neglect.

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR

      kerryg 

      9 years ago from USA

      Thanks for your comments, hot dorkage and JerileeWei!

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Great and necessary hub! You are so right about all of this.

    • hot dorkage profile image

      hot dorkage 

      9 years ago from Oregon, USA

      keep blogging about this stuff. Most readers will go head for a pepsi but we change the world a crumb at a time. Thank you.

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