If this summer has shown us anything, it’s that our environment is becoming increasingly wonky, in such a way that is becoming more and more difficult to ignore. On one hand, fires have been burning up large swaths of the dry, western portion of North America, and on the other, an out-of-the-ordinary hurricane season in the Atlantic is causing widespread rain, flooding, and destruction in and around the Caribbean, North Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico. Those who are in tune with nature can feel that while this is not what we would consider normal, it may just be the new normal. Going forward, we can expect to hear the words “unprecedented”, “never-before-seen”, and “for the first time in recorded history” when it comes to describing storms and other phenomena occurring in the natural world. Due to our destructive habits and the sheer number of us, humans are certainly having an effect on our planet, and now it’s up to us to make some drastic changes to reduce our impact and mitigate the damage that’s already been done. One achievable way to help our planet is by making a few changes to what we eat.
The impact our diet has on the planet
It is estimated that food production impacts all of our planet’s systems and is responsible for no less than 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. From the breakdown of what’s on our plate, to where it comes from, to what it comes in, to the amounts that we purchase often times to just throw away — it all has an effect, and combined, that effect is massive. Of all the actions the average citizen can feasibly take, making dietary changes is one that can have a very large positive impact. However, the Nature Conservancy sums it up very aptly when it states the difficulty in persuading people to change their diets: “no one wants to be told what they can and cannot eat. Few things are as powerfully evocative as food, with deep ties to family, culture and tradition.” Especially for a cause that everyone seems to believe is someone else’s responsibility. However, people are self-interested creatures, and when it comes to personal health or their wallets, many more are likely to make vast and long-term changes.
The good news is that the changes recommended by environmentalists, scientists, and sustainability experts alike are the very same recommended by health experts and dietitians. Which is to say, eating for a healthier planet is also eating for a healthier body. Incidentally, it can also be done in such a way that is good for your wallet as well. This is good news for the environment: if there were a widely accepted “healthy diet” fad (which also happened to promote healthy hearts, cholesterol levels, energy amounts, weight, skin, etc., as well as affordable), there could be far-reaching, positive effects for the environment.
After doing some extensive reading and research, here are six substantiated ways to eat better for your body, the environment, and your budget.
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables
One of the greatest ways that we can promote both a healthy environment and our own health is simply to bolster our diets with more fruits and veggies. Their production has a significantly lower environmental impact than meat or even grains, using less water, space, and energy. Just as an example, two separate studies (from the Frontiers in Nutrition and Journal of Clinical Nutrition) have separately determined that a vegetarian diet reduces 63% of greenhouse gas emissions, requires 61% less land and 67% less water, and generally has 64% less of an environmental impact than that of an omnivore. Most everyone can get some kind of locally-grown fruits and vegetables from their area year-round, and you can get without layers of packaging (if you bring your own bags!). Moreover, fruits and vegetables are often some of the cheapest items in your shopping cart.
Taking feasibility into account, it seems unlikely people en masse will be convinced to go vegetarian. But perhaps people can be convinced to cut down if it is shown to be better for their health, wealth, and environment.
2. Eat less meat
Most experts agree that you don’t have to cut meat out entirely to reduce your impact. The Frontiers in Nutrition study determined that a diet that is vegetarian five days a week and includes meat just two days a week would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and water and land use by about 45%”. The simple fact is that Westerners eat much more meat than what is considered healthy by any standard for either the environment or their bodies. While the USDA’s 2010 recommendations for meat consumption was 3.7 oz per day, the average American eats over 8 oz — more than double that. Since any additional protein you consume after hitting your daily limit is simply discarded by the body, it’s a complete waste of resources.
Nowadays, it easier than ever to find [delicious, easy to prepare] meat alternatives that are both healthier for you and better for the environment. Moreover, if you choose to cut down on your meat consumption, you could put the money you save towards more sustainably produced, higher quality meats that, again, are better for your body and the planet.
3. Eat fewer packaged foods
Though a less commonly-discussed issue, what our food comes in is a huge issue nevertheless. We are rapidly filling every corner of our planet with highly destructive, non-biodegradable materials such as plastic and styrofoam, and we’re starting to see that they circle back into our food chain. A study recently published by Orb Media shows that of tap water taken from a dozen nations, around 83% of it is contaminated by plastic fibers. Also, because so much plastic and other waste end up in the oceans and is consumed by the marine life which mistake it for food, plastic particles and toxic chemicals are moving their way up the food chain and back into our bodies when we consume seafood. The long-term results of these toxic substances being stored in our bodies are still a bit of an unknown, but it’s safe to say it’s not the best scenario. There is also a fairly obvious correlation between how healthy a food item is and how much packaging it has — the nutritional value usually increases when a food has less packaging.
4. Eat as organic as possible
Eating organic is another classic example of something that is better for both the body and the environment. The quality of farming practices has declined in order to maximize output; first to keep up with growing market and demand, and second to increase profits for the massive conglomerates who control food production. However, food quality and ecosystem health have both suffered a great deal because of it. The health of our ecosystems is like the infrastructure of the natural world: we must invest in it for our future, though it seems we don’t want to (perhaps, because like with infrastructure, we don’t see the results right away). Eating organic is also an investment, but an investment in ourselves. Many feel unable to buy organic because it is more expensive; however, there are enough studies out there to show that these toxic pesticides and chemicals store up in our bodies, and can have very scary health ramifications.
For many, the gamble of poor health down the line is worthwhile due to the money saved by purchasing non-organic foods. If you are one of those individuals who has not been able to commit to buying organic, check out the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” lists which refer to the foods most and least likely to be contaminated by pesticides, respectively — it’s a great place to start. You can see that list out from our friends at the David Suzuki Foundation.
5. Eat more local
There’s a reason that the food grown and produced closer to home tastes better — it’s fresher and less chemically manipulated. It’s also much better for the environment. The transportation costs of moving produce across the United States, for example, can allegedly emit between five and 17 times the amount of greenhouse gases local food distribution emits. Never mind the environmental toll of moving food around between continents.
Though we have developed a penchant for having everything available to us all of the time, it would make more environmental sense to eat locally as much as possible. In addition, purchasing local (at farmer’s markets or local grocery stores) helps support your community’s economy — a win for everyone!
6. Buy less, waste less
Of all of the environmental issues pertaining to food, none is more pointless or frustrating than the issue of food waste. It is estimated that 40% of food is thrown away annually in the United States, 47% of that being from household food waste and 37% from restaurants. Imagine all of the resources required to grow, produce, and transport food, only to have 40% of it thrown away. Now imagine all of the people around the world who don’t have enough to eat. It’s an absolute tragedy, but one that we can mitigate with a little planning and foresight. Again, while it’s often difficult to convince people to do things “for the environment alone”, perhaps it’s best framed in terms of the economic factor. Buying just what you need will save you money!
Bodhi Surf + Yoga strives to reduce its environmental impact through food and more
Through our little surf and yoga camp, we are in the perfect position to put these strategies to use. As you may know, our weekly camps include three dinners and five breakfasts, and in this aspect of operations, we have been working to make our kitchen as low impact as possible. From buying locally, reducing our meat consumption, and serving meals buffet-style to slowly reducing our plastic use. With each year that passes, we will be on the lookout for new ways to reduce our environmental impact, and more importantly, will be putting them into action.
Additionally, we hold our annual Ocean Guardian Contest which has the specific goal of highlighting and celebrating environmental leadership among the Regular Janes and Joes of the world. How are people making a difference in their lives, homes, communities, and ultimately, the world as a whole? While there is so much to be worried/concerned/disheartened about, there is also so much to be positive and hopeful about, and the contest aims to show just that. The #OGContest2017 will be open for submissions between October 1st-5th, 2017, so there is plenty of time to get yours ready!
In the meantime, we encourage you to do your part and start making those little changes in your diet — your budget, your body, and the future generations will thank you!