I forgot its Earth Day today, another great reason to veg for a month.
Here are some other things we can do, courtesy of my friend Lori, who doesn't have a blog to link to, but should:
If you can’t give up the steak, buy pasture-raised beef.
Pasture-raised cattle raised using environmentally sustainable practices will cost you a little more, but it is better for your health and the environment, not to mention the animals. Buy it from a local producer, such as White Oak Pastures that sells their beef at Publix and Whole Foods, and you’ll reap even more benefits by supporting the local economy and reducing carbon emissions associated with transporting beef produced out West.
Eat chicken in place of red meat, especially if it’s organic.
Conventional beef cattle production in the US has a heavy impact on the environment, so eating chicken instead of red meat for one or more of your “meat meals” per week can reduce your carbon footprint. Since chickens require far less water and feed than cows and pigs, and since they produce less waste, poultry is a more environmentally friendly dietary choice than other meats.
Organic chicken, raised without hormones or antibiotics and fed organic feed, are simply better for your health and the environment, and even the chickens. If you choose locally raised, organic chicken—like these at Vidal Holdings in Stockbridge, Georgia—you’ll do even better. Certified organic eggs (look for the label) cost more, but are also
Choose the fish you eat with care.
Fish that live in coastal areas also have lower impact on the environment than cattle, although fish that must be harvested from deep in the ocean can require massive fuel expenditures to locate, catch and distribute them—often as much as conventionally raised beef. Check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector to find the best fish for you and the environment. They’ve got a handy printable card you can put in your wallet to help you make good choices at the grocery or a restaurant.
Eat two vegetarian lunches or dinners per week.
If you’re interested in reducing your impact on the earth, peruse the produce section at the local market and experiment with a couple of vegetarian meals per week. If you replace only two “meat meals” per week with vegetarian options, and you’ll reduce your carbon footprint as much as if you switched from driving a Camry to driving a Prius.
If you go vegetarian, you’ll reduce your impact on the planet significantly, even if you eat eggs and dairy products. A vegan diet (totally plant/grain/seed/bean-based) has the lowest impact of all dietary choices, yet still offers a wide variety of culinary options. Despite the rumors, vegetarian diets offer plenty of protein, calcium and iron, and they don’t require complicated food pairings to be healthy.
Olympic track star Carl Lewis had been a vegan for a year when he set a world record for the 100 meter race, clocking in at 9.26 seconds. If an Olympic athlete can set world records powered by plants, just imagine what you could do.
Buy locally grown fruits and veggies whenever possible.
Not only will you enjoy the tastiest, in-season foods, buying locally greatly reduces carbon emissions and supports the local economy to boot. That mango flown in from Peru in February required far more petroleum to get to your local grocery store than the collard greens grown in south Georgia, not to mention that the mango was picked while still green, which means it won’t be nearly as tasty as one grown closer to home in the summer months.
An easy way to buy locally is to buy shares in a CSA (community supported agriculture) program. Basically, you pay a local farmer a base fee per “share” of the food he or she grows that season, and you get a weekly crate of whatever is being harvested at that time of year (fruits, veggies, and in some cases, flowers and eggs). One example of a local, organic CSA is Gaia Gardens in Decatur. There are several CSA programs in metro Atlanta, and often the farms use organic practices, too.
Buy organic, especially if it’s local.
Organic farms do not use fertilizers or pesticides that not only may be carcinogenic, but also get into our water supply and do damage. Organic farms tend to be smaller, diversified family farms that support environmentally sustainable practices, so when you buy from them, you’re using your wallet to make a statement about the world we want to live in. Always look for the certified organic label to be sure it’s really organic.
Grow your own.
Growing your own fruits and veggies is fun and easy, especially with the South’s long growing season. Best of all, you can ensure at least some of your food is both local and organic. Herbs are perhaps the easiest to grow, and in a sunny spot (even in a bucket on your patio), it’s easy to grow more tomatoes than you can eat. You can share the rest with friends and family, or donate them the local soup kitchen or food pantry. Other veggies are equally easy to grow. Not a gardener? Just throw some small plants in the ground and see what happens. If you water them regularly, you’re in for a bounty of delicious, seasonal foods!
Learn more about your food.
If you love good writing and want to learn more about the food you buy, pick up a copy of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. If you like that one, be sure to read the follow-up book, In Defense of Food. You can read many of the NYT articles that form the basis for these books for free on his website. It’ll change the way you think about food—for the better.