Friday, January 29, 2010

Does what you eat impact the environment?

Today is "Zero-Waste" lunch day at one of the schools where we teach cooking. The challenge is to serve up lunch which results in no trash - just compost and recycling. This is a great goal for the kids, their families and the school. The next step is to look at the actual food you eat and see how that food impacts your carbon footprint. Here are a few things to consider:

Where does your food come from? Eating foods that are grown locally reduces the carbon footprint significantly. Food that must travel from far-away places, like Mexico or Chile, has to travel by plane and truck to get to your grocery store. Planes and trucks use up a lot of fuel and emit a lot of carbon dioxide into the air. Buying your fruit and vegetables from the farmers market from farms within a 100 mile radius is far more earth-friendly. Buying foods that are only in season will ensure that you are buying locally. Eating a peach in the winter can only mean that peach was grown on a farm in a warm climate. Because it is summer in South America when it is winter here means you can bet the peach you are buying in February comes from South America or another far-away, warm place. In addition to local food, supporting your local organic farmer means that you are supporting his or her method of not polluting the soil and the plants with hazardous chemicals. Those chemicals are not only bad for you (it is impossible to wash off all the pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed onto plants) but bad for the environment.

Is your food packaged?
Packaged foods have a number of hidden ecological costs. The packages (boxes, paper, plastic bags) must be made in a factory. The factory uses a a lot of energy, such as electricity. The packaging materials must be shipped to the final users, meaning that fuel is used and carbon dioxide emitted. Some of the packaging cannot be recycled and must be thrown away. Trash ends up in landfills, wasting our precious and every shrinking open land, which could be used for green spaces like parks. Trees absorb carbon dioxide. Buying less packaged and processed food means using less packaging. Also buying your whole food in bulk or buying your produce at the farmer's market means you use less packaging. Take a cloth bag or reuse a paper bag when going to the farmer's market or store to conserve even more!

How often do you eat red meat? People are eating more red meat today than ever before. In the U.S., people eat on average over 200 pounds of it! This may have a lot to do with people eating in fast-food places like McDonalds and Burger King. To raise cows, you must have land. As a result, many forests are being cleared for pastures, robbing the planet of trees, which (again) absorbs carbon dioxide. Cattle and sheep also release a lot of methane (yes, burps and farts)! Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. In a recent recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, it was found that the animals' burps, the nitrous oxide gases from their decomposing poop and other factors, including the energy needed to store and transport meat, were responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions! WOW!!! We're not saying don't eat meat. We're saying you can maybe eat less of it.

Do you know the history of the fish you are eating?
Poor fishing practices in the last 50 years have threatened our oceans and caused near extinction of many fish, like shark, swordfish and cod. In response, fish farms have sprung up but even those can be hazardous to our environment if the right types of fish are not properly chosen for the farms or if the method of farming is not eco-friendly. Learn where your fish comes from that ends up on your plate for dinner. Ask the fish seller what he or she knows about the fish you are buying. Also, log on to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Food Watch page. There you will find gads of information about sustainable fishing practices and what fish are currently endangered and/or hazardous to eat.

Kuddos to those of you already paying attention to the impact your choices make on our environment. Keep up the good work! If you haven't taken the challenge yet, why not start now? Reduce the carbon footprint in your household by just making one of the above-changes. Gradually, you can incorporate more of these changes. If we each take one small step, we will make big changes!!

Take the challenge: To see how much of a carbon footprint you are leaving, go to the Zero Footprint Kids Calculator and fill out the questionnaire. See how you compare to the average child in other countries. Good luck!

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