By Adria Vasil, author of Ecoholic
Maybe it's the half-Greek in me, but there's nothing that makes me giddier then the sight of a table full of food (well, other than actually eating the food). Trouble is most of what we stack onto our plates isn't just weighing on our hips, hearts and cells, it's also bloating the planet with packaging, pesticides and climate-changing gases.
How can you get your fill without, er, tipping the ecological scales? Just follow these five Earth- and body-friendly tips from Ecoholic
1. Eat Close to Home
And by that I don't mean ordering takeout from your local pizza joint! Search for produce grown in your own county/state. If you can't find homegrown garlic/greens/grapes at the grocery store, don't be shy, ask the produce manager for more local options and trove farmers' markets for freshly picked goodies. Not only does buying locally translate into fewer dirty fossil fuels trucking or shipping that food to you, it also means you're helping to preserve nearby farmlands and valuable green spaces. Plus, betchya didn't know that the vitamin content of a just-picked tomato is higher than in one plucked before it was ripe then carted 2500 miles. It tastes a hell of a lot better, too. To track down the greenest local food sources near you, punch in your zip code at localharvest.org.
2. Try Tofu Tuesdays
Eating fewer meaty meals isn't just good for your cholesterol count, your waistline and your pocketbook -- it's also one of the top moves you can make for the planet. Gassy livestock literally burp and, um, expel more of the world's greenhouse gases than cars, trains and planes combined! In fact, one University of Chicago study found that eating 20% fewer animal products every week reduces your greenhouse gas footprint as much as switching from a sedan to an ultra efficient Prius! And since, despite what your mom told you, there won't always be more fish in the sea, pick your seafood choices wisely with the help of a pocket-size guide from Seafood Watch. Smaller fish like sardines aren't only more sustainable than big daddies like tuna, they're also way lighter in pollutants like mercury.
3. Get It Fair and Square
Quick, pick three things that get you through the day and I'll bet you twenty bucks that coffee, chocolate and sugar make the list. Since none of the above grow on U.S. soil (well other than beet sugar), you want to be sure you buy the kind with a Fair Trade Certified label on the package. Why? Well, the workers that pick those ingredients are generally paid so poorly they'd have to work three days just to afford a Starbucks grande latte! Fair trade certified farms, on the other hand, pay farmhands in developing countries a decent wage, give their families access to health care and education and forbid the use of ultra toxic pesticides (which makes them better for your health, too). Bonus: your sugar-/caffeine-/chocolate-rush blissfully guilt-free.
4. Pass on Packaging (Especially Plastic):
What goes into a Ding Dong is one thing; what's wrapped around it is a whole other ball of plastic. Just stop emptying your kitchen's trash bin for a week and you'll find yourself knee deep in the food packaging (think milk cartons, cereal boxes, frozen food trays and all the double to triple layers of wrap around cookies, crackers, you name it). No wonder nearly a third of all the garbage we toss every year is packaging! Avoid the whole landfill bound mess by buying in bulk and bringing your own storage sacs shopping (you'll find some at reusablebags.com). Choose loose lettuce instead of the boxed stuff. Buy concentrated ingredients like broth in dry form instead of bulkier watered-down cartons. And when you have a choice, pick the jam/juice/soup that comes in glass (it doesn't leach dodgy toxins like tin cans and some plastics can).
5. Fork Out for the Right Organics:
In my dream Ecoholicland, everything in the grocery stores would be deliciously organic and we could all afford to eat chemical-free 365 days a year. But in the real world, most of us have to budget our pesticide-free picks. If you have young children, look at what they eat the most of (like milk or grapes) and switch those items to organic first. And though, yes, 73% of the fruits and veg checked by the FDA tested positive for pesticide residues, to be fair, some are worse then others. Spend your money on certified organic peaches, peppers and spinach before buying, say, organic broccoli, since conventional broccoli is quite low in residues. (See the dirty dozen foods to buy organic.) For a guide to the 12 worst and best produce items you can print or download to your phone, head to foodnews.org. Of course the cheapest (and tastiest) organics are the ones you grow yourself in your backyard. Okay, fine, so it's a little late to start tomatoes, but you're right on time to plant spinach, kale, lettuce and more. Money can't buy greener greens.
Adria Vasil is the author of Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products & Services. She is a best-selling author and journalist for Canada's NOW, where she has been writing the "Ecoholic" column for five years. She lives in Toronto. For more information please visit www.ecoholicnation.com.
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