Our diets are key to living sustainable personal lives and, in the bigger picture, creating a sustainable economy. As with everything we recommend here at Greener Daily Life, we believe that the perfect can sometimes be the enemy of the good. It’s better to take small steps that you can maintain – starting with something like Meatless Mondays – than to over-reach. When you’re ready, take another small step.
That’s why we love this set of five impactful but easy diet tips for Earth Month from Sharon Palmer, RDN, the Plant-powered Dietitian:
1. Eat More Plants, Less Animals
Vegetarians have a 30 percent lower carbon footprint than meat eaters, according to research. And just moving to a semi-vegetarian or Flexitarian diet (small amount of animal foods are consumed) can make a difference – semi-vegetarians have a 20 percent lower carbon footprint. Why does a plant-centric diet make such a difference? Well, it’s easy: You can grow plants and eat them, or you can grow plants, feed them to animals (who require lots of land, water and food – and produce lots of manure and methane) and eat the animals. It’s much more efficient to eat the plants.
2. Eat More Whole, Minimally Processed Foods
Every time you eat a highly processed food – a food that doesn’t bear any resemblance to its origins – you increase your carbon footprint. For example, a highly processed “nutrition” bar, with corn syrup as the number one ingredient, doesn’t look anything like an ear of corn. All those ingredients listed on the nutrition bar wrapper had to be processed somewhere, and then transported to the nutrition bar processing plant, where they were assembled, packaged and transported to your nearby store. Think of the inputs required to get that bar to your pantry, compared to an ear of corn you picked up at the farmers market. In 2005, an Iowa researcher found that the ingredients in a single carton of yogurt traveled 2,211 miles to get to the processing plant. And that’s just yogurt!
3. Cut Down Food Waste
Did you know that every day in the U.S., we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl? I live really close to the Rose Bowl, and let me tell you, it’s big! In fact, more than 40 percent of the food produced for consumption in the U.S. will never be eaten – it’s enough to provide 1,400 calories per day. What’s the big deal? Just think of all the resources – not to mention animal lives – that went into producing the food that never even gets consumed. If you really want to make an impact on your carbon footprint, just cut out wasted food. Don’t over-purchase food, order smaller portions at restaurants, pack away leftovers, plan menus during the week to maximize food usage and make a weekly soup to take advantage of leftover vegetables, grains, proteins and broths.
4. Grow Some Food
We used to eat far more sustainably. Much of the food we consumed came from kitchen gardens and the local environs through hunting and gathering. Families preserved their bounty of food to last through the winter. Enter the modern world, where everything comes from the supermarket! You can make a difference by growing even a small amount of your own food. The average family vegetable garden provides $600 worth of vegetables (that you don’t need to have transported all the way to your kitchen!), according to the National Gardening Association. Rip out one flowerbed and turn it into a vegetable garden. Ditch the ornamental tree in favor of a fruit tree. If you live in an apartment, try a tomato plant on the balcony. Foster that green thumb.
5. Buy More Locally
Local may be the hot buzzword. And it’s important, as foods travel from ever increasing distances to get to your plate. Swedish researchers found that a typical Swedish breakfast of apple, bread, butter, cheese, coffee, cream and sugar traveled in total the distance of the Earth’s circumference to get to a Swedish breakfast plate! Sure, the stats vary, depending on where you live, but you get the picture. Cut down on the distance your food travels by buying more products that are grown closer to home. The best way to do this is to grow your own food, but the second best way is to support your local farmers market or community supported agriculture, where you can find all manners of food – fruits, vegetables, dried beans, nuts, oil, eggs, meat and fish – produced in your own community.
Berry Quinoa Power Bowl
3/4 cup cooked rainbow quinoa
2-3 tablespoons vanilla plant-based yogurt (i.e., soy, almond, coconut)
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
8 fresh blackberries
2 large fresh strawberries, sliced
18 fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon chia seeds
- In a single serve bowl, stir together cooked quinoa, yogurt, and cardamom until smooth.
- Arrange toppings: walnuts, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and chia seeds on top of quinoa.
- Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 388 calories, 17g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 35 mg sodium, 49g carbohydrates, 13 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 13 g protein
– Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian
To learn more about Sharon’s work, visit Sharon’s website.
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