Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Green Choices Wednesday

Eating Green

Simple processes such as making our daily dietary choices have a significant effect on our environment.  Every day, we have two major choices:  where our food is raised, and which foods we choose to eat.

Food Sources - Eating Local
There are a range of choices relating to the sources of our food.  The distance food travels has an impact on air quality.  Obviously, more greenhouse gases are generated transporting food raised farther away.  Buying locally raised food is preferable to buying food raised far away.  However, few areas have year-around growing seasons, or raise all of the products we wish to consume, so we have to make decisions and trade-offs.  For most of us, the decision comes down to eating foods raised as close to home as possible, and eating foods that are in season as much as possible.  And it's not a black and white choice between local and distant; there are a full range of options in between:

1. Home gardening - the ultimate local source:   This is my favorite.  Every year, I grow fresh vegetables in my garden.  It just doesn't get any more local than my own back yard!  There is virtually no transportation involved; maybe just shipping the seeds.  I use home-produced compost instead of chemical fertilizers.  This has several benefits.  This method doesn't support the environmental effects of production and transportation of chemical fertilzer.  There is no resulting chemical runoff into the local watershed when it rains.  Composting my kitchen and yard waste keeps the waste out of landfills, reduces transportation effects from taking waste to landfills, and provides high quality, fresh, organically grown vegetables. 

2. Locally Raised: Visiting local farms or local farmer's markets are great choices.  Transportation is minimal, and locally raised foods are fresher.

3. Regionally Raised:  Many foods that are not available locally may be available regionally.  Any reduction in distance transported benefits the environment.  Here's an example.  When I buy a bag of oranges or grapefruit, I can usually choose between Texas, Florida and California citrus.  Living in Texas, I look for the Texas fruit.  Reading the labels on bags of various fresh produce often tells us the source of the food.  Being informed allows us to make better choices.

4. Nationally vs Internationally Raised:  There are a lot of options.  Do I want to buy apples from the state of Washington, or from New Zealand?  Big difference in distance.

Food Choices - What do we Eat?
What we choose to eat has at least as big an impact as the source of our food.  Choosing organically raised food is more environmentally sound because it is raised without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Grass-fed beef is a better choice than grain-fed beef.  Less meat is better than more meat.  Studies indicate that as much as 18% of all greenhouse gases are a result of meat production.  Grass is the natural diet for cattle.  Cattle raised on factory farms are fed grain, mostly corn, the digestion of which results in more methane generation than a natural grass diet.  Many people are choosing to eat less meat for many reasons, including health, concern for the environment, and concern for animal treatment.  Just as with food sourcing, there are a range of dietary choices:

1. Meat Reduction:  Many people have chosen not to eat meat every day.  There is a popular Meatless Monday movement.  People have chosen not to eat meat one day per week.  If everyone did this, it would reduce enviromental impact by 1/7, or 14%.  Others have taken it a step further and go meatless several days per week.  My family did this for many years.

2. Flexitarian Diet:  This is a term that I only became familiar with last year, as I researched vegetarianism.  A flexitarian eats a virtually vegetarian diet, with only occasional meat.  The percentage of meat consumption is so low that the environmental impact is very close to that of a total vegetarian diet.  "Occasional" is defined by the individual.  It may be weekly, monthly, or even less.

3. Vegetarian Diet:  A no-meat diet, typically allowing dairy products and eggs.  This is my current choice.  Not as strict as vegan.  Dairy and eggs give two good sources of protein in the absence of meat.  Over the years, I trended from reduced meat, to mostly flexitarian, and finally to vegetarian.  After giving more and more thought to my concerns for the environment, and also to concerns about animal treatment, last year, I could no longer reconcile my views with continued consumption of meat.

4. Vegan Diet:  No meat or animal products at all, including dairy or eggs.

So, we face a lot of choices about our diet.  The choices are not black-or-white, all-or-nothing.  One doesn't have to go to the extreme on every choice.  Just think about your choices, make informed choices, and be aware that there is an effect that results from every choice.  The cumulative effect of many people just helping a little is huge.

Think Green and Live Green!


Anonymous said...

Very nice summary. I'm a big advocate for eating healthy and green. Buy most of our food organic and veggies/fruit locally to support my community. Also what you put in matters what comes out especially when you are a runner (athlete):-)

Vern said...

Stephanie, thanks for visiting, and thanks for helping the environment with your choices!

I approached the subject mainly from the green perspective, but supporting the local economy and local farmers is one of the best reasons to buy local. It really helps keep local farms stay in business and better compete with the large factory farms!

I'm always interested in another runner's persective! I find that in general, runners and other athletes tend to be more nutrition conscious than the general population.

FoodFitnessFreshair said...

All very important points. I miss my home garden already. We're thinking about putting an herb garden in our apartment, but aren't sure if it will attract bugs. Thoughts on this?

Vern said...

Grace, we have grown herbs in a pot on a windowsill and haven't attracted bugs. A good bagged potting soil should be insect free, and we've never had a problem with the plants themselves attracting them.

Here's another option. Check out the Aerogarden. We have two of them and they work really well! It's really a mini hydroponic system, no soil, built-in grow light, runs the light and circulates the water and nutrients all on timer. Info on the web at
If you like the idea, shop around. There's a fair range of prices out there. You should be able to find a price decently discounted from list. A little over $100.

Don said...

Some herbs are natural insect repellents. See the list at:

You could also set a pot of marigolds in with them to repel insects. The town I used to live in used a spray made from crushed marigolds to cut down on mosquitoes, and it seemed to work quite well.

Vern said...

Nice tip, Don!
Thanks for the link!