April 20, 2013

10 Simple Steps to Eat Healthier and Save Mother Earth – Can I Count You In?

April 22, 2013 is Earth Day - once again.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless when we hear about the large and significant global problems caused by our years of mistreating Mother Earth. Feeling overwhelmed can make it hard to imagine that each of us, one by one, can, make a difference in the health of our global climate. But I believe each of us has the power to impact the health of our climate...by how and what we eat. Yes, it’s true!

Recently I heard The Diet-Climate Connection by David Freudberg, host of the public radio series Humankind. In a blog on Huff Post he wrote, “The food recommendations made by many climate scientists align neatly with what health experts have told us for many decades: on average Americans consume way too few fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains and far too many meat and dairy products (see: epidemics of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes). What hit me here was the two-fer: what's good for the planet is good for your body. It's not just your mode of transportation, or how well you insulate your home. Now your menu matters, too.”   As a dietitian I was struck by the number of actions each of could take to save Mother Earth just within the realm of how we purchase our foods and beverages and what we eat. I began to brainstorm the actions I currently take to eat healthy and care for Mother Earth and others I’d like to initiate to honor Earth Day 2013.

This list of 10 simple steps came to me quickly. I’m sure there are many more.

1. Minimize Your Food Waste:  Each year, Americans waste 33 million tons of food. Think about it – throwing out leftovers, not cleaning your plate in restaurants (which has it’s benefits on your waistline), a rotten apple or banana – you get the picture. It adds up! Actions to take: When it comes to fresh foods and produce buy just what you need at the market. Prepare just enough for meals. Freeze leftovers soon after preparation. Try it for one or two meals a week and you’ll be amazed by how much less goes to waste.  Learn more: The Ugly Truth about Food Waste in America.
Packaged Foods
2. Buy Fewer Packaged and Processed Foods: Think about ALL the energy and human and material resources it requires to process the food, create food packaging, fill containers, store them, ship them, stock them in the supermarket, etc. Then think about the foods you buy. Ask yourself how you can minimize the processing steps your foods go through. And try to buy fewer packaged foods. Certainly one answer is more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  

3. Brew Your Breakfast Beverage at Home: Skip that expensive and earth-unfriendly trip to the corner coffee shop.  Make your morning beverage, whether be coffee, tea or other favorite waker-upper at home and put it into a reusable container to cart along with you. If that coffee shop stop remains a must, then bring your reusable mug along and ask them to fill it with your beverage of choice. Some shops now offer you a few cents off. 

4. Consider Composting: Here’s a way to have the food waste that you do create (both from wasted food and from peels, cores, etc.) do double duty. I’ve composted for years with a small bin in the kitchen for waste which then gets dumped into the compost bins located in close proximity to the garden. Yes, that compost ends up in the garden. If your living situation doesn’t afford you the ability to store compostable material outside there’s a growing number of composting services available. In Washington D.C. I’m aware of Compost Cab. Learn more: About Composting.

5. Buy Locally Grown Produce and Products: Yes, there’s a big push on to buy local and to support our local farmers. Consider participating in a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture program or support a local farmer’s market (there are more of them cropping up). Better yet, grow it yourself. Most of us can’t keep ourselves in fruits and vegetables all year, but even if you grow a few it’s less you have to buy. Plus, if you’ve got kids, it’s great for them to get their hands dirty and see how food grows.

6. Shop with Reusable Bags: It’s great to see more people using reusable bags at the supermarket, but I’m still amazed how many people don’t. I admit it took me time to get into a routine with the recyclable bags, but I’m there (at least most of the time). They’re in my trunk at the ready. As soon as they’re emptied, back to the trunk of my car (yes, a Prius) they go. And there’s no reason not to bring these bags on other errands or just refuse a bag when you can.

7. Reuse, Recycle Plastic Bags: I buy a lot of produce, so even though I use reusable bags at the checkout counter, I still put produce in too many plastic bags. Sure I recycle as many of the clean bags as I can, but I’d like to use fewer plastic bags to begin with. I’m thinking of not putting the foods in plastic bags to begin with or buying a supply of small cloth bags that I can wash and reuse. I’m open to suggestions here.

8. Waste Less Restaurant Food and Containers: In restaurants we’re used to taking home leftovers or getting food to take out in throw away containers. Yes, another source of waste. A few suggestions:  when you eat in restaurants, order just what you need to eat to minimize the need for take-out containers.  True, large restaurant portions don’t help. Split and share, order appetizer size portions – generally be creative with menus to get just what you need.  Take out less frequently. Cook more at home…your body (and the environment) will thank you. 

9. Buy Fewer Beverages in Containers: Recently I participated in a local creek clean up. The main items I found were beverage containers – glass, cans, plastic and those foil packages. There’s really no need for any of them. And they typically (other than water, milk and 100% juice) contain unhealthy beverages. When you want to carry a beverage with you, use a reusable container. When you have access, drink water from, as a friend of mine calls it, the fountain of free. In sit down restaurants, ask to have your water served in a glass.  

10. Eat A Plant-based Diet: Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Let these be the foods that fill moVegi Pastast of your plate. Keep meats (red meats, seafood and poultry) to a minimum. The evidence is growing that eating plant-based can prevent chronic diseases from type 2 diabetes to heart disease and cancer. Add to this, it takes food and energy to produce meat (and other protein sources. Freudberg notes, “It takes about 30 pounds of corn and soybeans to grow one pound of boneless beef (not to mention thousands of gallons of water). That's a lot of inefficiency in our insatiable quest for the fast-food burger.” Here’s a related factoid: Using a methodology that considers the entire commodity chain, it estimates that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas. Plus bringing these healthier foods to market (especially if they’re locally grown) require less energy and human resources. Learn more: Meatless Monday 

So can I count you in? Are you willing to celebrate Earth Day 2013 by making a commitment to take two, three or more of these 10 simple steps to eat healthier and at the same time not leave your mark on Mother Earth? Living healthier on a healthier earth – now that’s a winning two-fer! Please share what you do to save the climate through how and what you buy and eat. We can learn from each other and save the earth together.