Summer is a good time to examine our eating habits. What we consume, how much and how fast we eat not only affects our health and family budgets but also contributes to our personal CO2 emissions as well as our water footprint. We can do more damage or good to our precious home, planet Earth, through our daily diets than we can in other areas of transportation or consumption.
Food for thought
There is no denying we must eat to live, but what and how much, definitely has room for mindful action.
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the US has the shortest life span and poorest health when compared to 16 “peer,” high-income countries.
Many foods are significantly more water and carbon intensive than others. For example, it takes 660 gallons of water to make one hamburger. Considering our drought conditions, that is significant now more than ever. Two-thirds of our water usage goes into food preparation. In a 2013 UN Report, agriculture is said to be responsible for up to 57 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The majority of those emissions comes from the meat and dairy industry. The average American eats 167 pounds of beef a year, 3 times the global average.
Change it up!
I have a friend who often suggests, “Change it up,” when things get boring or don’t seem to be working. One smart change would be to switch our protein and calcium sources to more sustainable foods like tofu, beans, nuts, seeds, figs, greek yogurt, oranges, soy milk, hummus, peanut butter, some fish and a variety of green vegetables like kale, edamame, spinach, avocado, collard greens and bok choy. There are many fun recipes using fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and proteins. Or visit one of the multiple vegetarian restaurants popping up around town like Veggie House, Lyfe Kitchen and Violette’s Vegan, just to name a few.
Nearly 30 percent of American adults and more than one-third of children are overweight or obese. Obesity in youths is more than likely to contribute to immediate health problems like cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and pre-diabetes, as well as a lengthy list of long term health problems. Changing to more fresh, raw, unprocessed foods and less processed and heavily packaged foods can lead to better health and more sustainable living.
Downsizing our food intake and speed
Fast food and big portions are no doubt convenient, but have been no help to our waistlines. When I first moved to Japan, I was surprised at the small portions and often wondered if the Japanese went hungry. They did not and do not. On my subsequent trips home to the US over the last couple of decades, I became equally shocked at the increase in US portion sizes. Japan has ranked high in the data for life expectancy and good health, however, they too are now tempted by fast food, all-you-can-eat specials and quick processed meals, and their health statistics are starting to lean toward similar declines as in the US.
Slowing down our eating is a great way to eat enough and eat less. It takes 20 minutes for our brains to signal to the rest of our body that we are full. Planning our meal time in courses and involving conversation with family and friends are a few ways to slow down our eating. Unfortunately many of us eat alone, on the run, or in front of a television or computer screen making us not only mindless of the speed we are eating but unappreciative of the precious food giving us energy.
Decrease our food miles-Eat locally
Eating locally in the desert is a tough one with much of our food trucked in or flown in. However, studies show that the majority of food miles-carbon footprint, are accrued by shoppers driving to and from stores and restaurants. Therefore, good planning can result in less trips by car. Biking, walking, car-pooling or public transit are also other smarter choices. Even so, buying locally is not impossible in Southern Nevada. Visit LV Green Community’s page on Facebook to keep up on information about farmers markets and school and community gardens.
The most localist of all, is to grow your own food. Visit the Springs Preserve to get some ideas of produce that can grow in the desert. You may be surprised.
Minimize and compost our waste
Lastly, careful mindful planning and eating can lead to less food waste. Americans throw away 30 to 40 percent of food supply, equalling more than 240 pounds per person annually. This waste can be lessened by ordering less, preparing your own food, sharing, buying less and eating slower. If you still have food left over, composting that food will increase the productivity of your garden or your neighbor’s garden. More on composting in upcoming columns.
More or less
On this green topic there are a lot of delicious things we can do to cut emissions, save water and increase healthy habits. Here are some easy suggestions to implement
- Learn the carbon and water footprint of food.
- Eat more raw, fresh food, less processed and packaged.
- Eat more plant-based food, less animal based food.
- Eat slower and less.
- Avoid fast food and eat out less.
- Grow your own food or buy locally grown.
What we eat affects our health and the health of our planet. There is no time like the present to educate ourselves on the consequences of our daily food consumption. And it is all within our reach. Knowledge, new habits and encouraging others is something we all can practice within our homes and communities.
http://www.networx.com/article/80-items-you-can-compost http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm http://sites.nationalacademies.org/dbasse/CPOP/DBASSE_080393#deaths-from-all-causes http://www.gracelinks.org/1361/the-water-footprint-of-food http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/change-the-course/water-footprint-calculator/ http://www.gracelinks.org/1408/water-footprint-calculator http://www.greeneatz.com/foods-carbon-footprint.html http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/shrink-your-food-footprint