Posted by By Laura Newcomer on Feb 15th 2014
Green Eats — Your ACtion Plan Part 1: At The Store
By Laura Newcomer
The Sustainable Food Movement is sweeping the country. Farmer’s markets, organic produce, genetically-modified foods, cage-free eggs— they’re all becoming part of the cultural lingo. While a lot of this conversation focuses around whether organic foods are better for people’s health, it turns out these trends are also good for the planet.
Sustainable eating doesn’t have to be hard, and it also doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing: Adopting just a few of the items on this list can make a big impact. For instance, if one person chose to use reusable bags for the rest of their life, beginning at the age of 25, they could save more than 21,000 plastic bags. Point being: You can make a difference.
At the Store
1. Reuse it.
Bring a reusable bag on your next shopping trip, and you’ve already helped out the planet. The United States alone uses about 100 billion new plastic bags each year, and (brace yourself) this massive production costs 12 million barrels of oil. Worldwide, only about 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled — which means that the rest end up in landfills, oceans, or elsewhere in the environment. Why does it matter? There are several reasons: Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, but light exposure can degrade them enough to release toxic polymer particles — most of which end up in the ocean. Approximately one million birds and 100,000 turtles and other sea animals die of starvation each year after ingesting discarded plastics and other trash debris, which block their digestive tracks. And public agencies spend millions of dollars on litter clean-up each year. (In case you’re wondering, paper bags aren’t much better. Each year, 14 million trees are cut down to make paper shopping bags via a process that requires even more energy than the making of plastic bags.)
2. Strip down.
Look for products with minimal packaging (like unwrapped produce or meat straight from the deli counter or butcher). Excess packaging is often made out of unsustainable materials and contributes to waste that ends up in landfills. Perhaps the worst culprit is polystyrene (alias Styrofoam), which is a suspected carcinogen and is manufactured through an energy-intensive process that creates hazardous waste and greenhouse gases .
3. Don’t buy the bottle.
Millions of tons of plastic are used to produce billions of plastic water bottles each year. Save money and lessen waste by drinking tap water from a reusable water bottle. Worried about your health? Try a water filter, or take courage from the fact that a lot of bottled water is likely no better than what’s on tap.
4. Shop different.
Choose to give your money to stores that demonstrate care for the planet, both in their company practices and in the food selections they provide. Look for a selection of local and organic foods as well as store practices that limit waste (think: doors on the refrigerated sections so that energy isn’t wasted, minimal and/or recyclable packaging, and a store-wide recycling program).
5. Go local.
Eating locally grown and processed foods is possibly the best way to lower your carbon footprint when it comes to what you eat. Bonus: Eating locally means that food will be fresher — and therefore taste better and perhaps retain more nutrients — than food shipped across the globe.
7. Go organic.
The definition of organic can be a little confusing, but food labels can help. Certified organic foods are grown and processed using farming methods that recycle resources and promote biodiversity and without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, and petroleum- or sewage-sludge-based fertilizers. (Weird. Who wouldn’t want their food grown in sewage sludge?) Though their benefits to the environment have a long-term payoff, organic foods can be pricier — if you’re on a budget, find out which foods are most worth buying organic, and limit your organic purchases to the ones that make the biggest impact.
8. Eat it raw.
Chomp down on a raw carrot instead of boiling or sautéing it, and save energy that would otherwise have been used to power cooking appliances.
9. Eat in season.
Seasonal nomming allows you to eat locally — and we’ve already covered how important local purchasing is for the environment. Check out what’s growing nearby right now.
10. Preserve it.
Want to eat more locally, but love to eat strawberries year-round? Learn how to preserve fruits and vegetables so you can eat locally grown produce all year long (it’s bound to impress Grandma, too).
11. Grow it.
You don’t need to live in the wild to grow your own fruits and veggies. Join a community garden, or, if you’re cramped for space, create a vertical garden right inside your window.
12. Get some community support.
Not into the idea of growing your own? Consider joining a CSA (short for Community Supported Agriculture), which allows you to reap the benefits of locally grown produce without getting your hands dirty.