My inner-hippy is on a never ending quest for the most eco-friendly ingredients. Nutrition and sustainability go hand-in-hand and the foods that are the most sustainable are usually the most nutritious. Funny how that works.
At work, I am always harassing our sustainability office, constantly picking their brain on how to better grow my herb garden and debating their stance on composting and food waste. Recently, I shifted my focus to sustainable foods, and after finding out some of my favorite healthy ingredients are not so earth-friendly, I freaked and started researching sustainable foods. After double checking my facts with the almighty Sustainability Team, I am excited to share the foods I am going to now include and exclude in my future shopping trips.
Earth Friendly Foods
The shortest and easiest answer is that all foods grown and purchased locally are the most sustainable. The single most impacting factor on a food’s carbon footprint is the distance it has to travel, meaning the further the food travels the more harmful it is for the planet. It takes a lot of energy, fuel and resources to transport food on boats and trucks half way around the world. Buying from your local farmer means you are reducing the miles your food has traveled to get to your dinner plate. Eating locally also means you are eating with the seasons and supporting your community! What a nice neighbor you are.
The best way to ensure you are buying local goods is by going to your community farmers market or looking for ‘local’ stickers at your grocery store. Want to go over the top on your earth saving escapade? Ride your bike to the farmers market, bring your reusable bag, and buy some local produce. And try not to hug a few trees along the way.
Foods that Hurt our Planet
Exotic Super Foods
Believe it or not, exotic and trendy super foods are hurting our environment. Most of the ‘hot this minute’ foods are shipped from overseas, which is burning fuel in transportation. Those prized goji berries are shipped from China, cacao and Maca are from South America and are transported all across the globe. In some third-world countries, their native super foods become so high in demand that fair-trade is almost impossible and exploitation of farmers happen quicker than Americans can shake our money at it. In some instances, demand is so high that the traditional foods are no longer available to the native people who used to include them in their daily diet.
Make it sustainable: If you still want to hop on the super food craze train, buy local! Do you see the local trend here? Buying American grown quinoa or chia seeds can ensure you are not contributing to the global exploitation of foreign farmers and only a small amount of fossil fuels were burned when transporting local foods.
Not only is most lamb exported from Australia, but the food and resources lamb require have a negative environmental impact. Lamb overall produces more CO2 than cows (what?!) but lambs are obviously smaller and yield less meat. This means the CO2 output per pound of lamb is not very sustainable and the raising and transporting of lamb is very detrimental to the environment. Check out the chart below for a visual breakdown of lamb emissions.
Make it sustainable (lamb): Buying local and grass-fed lamb if you have to get your lamb fix.
Make it sustainable (beef): This rule applies to all red meat, including lamb. Beef is known as the environmental ‘earth sucker’ with its high carbon footprint. Typically we see the highest carbon footprint with meat that is grain/corn fed and is shipped all over the U.S. to supply our markets. Buying local, grass fed meat is better for the environment because of the constant cycle of cows eating the grass, then the cow fertilizing the ground helping to grow the grass which will then be eaten again. Studies have shown that grass fed beef produces less emissions than grain fed beef and buying local reduces the amount of fuel it takes to deliver steak to your local supermarket.
It’s no secret that Greek yogurt is healthy, with its high protein and low fat content making it a great breakfast sidekick. I use Greek yogurt frequently in my recipes to replace sour cream, but you need to be aware of it’s environmental impact. What most people don’t realize is how Greek yogurt is made and how much acidic liquid residue is left over and dumped by commercial industries. Greek yogurt comes from regular yogurt which is strained to remove the excess water, making the yogurt more thick. Unfortunately the leftover strained water is extremely toxic and when dumped into streams and removes the oxygen from the water damaging existing wildlife. The yogurt industry is currently finding better ways to use the leftover acidic liquid instead of dumping it by the truck loads into reservoirs. There is even talk of somehow converting the residue directly into energy and electricity using the electricity to power a small town! If this did actually happen, Greek yogurt would turn into an environment saving powerhouse!
Make it sustainable: Skip Greek and stick with regular yogurt.
How are you making healthy choices for the environment?
Credit: The Environmental Working Group