Eco Nutrition: How Our Forks Can Impact the EnvironmentMar 31, 2022 09:31AM ● By Tamara Luck
The current environmental crisis can make us feel overwhelmed and disempowered. Luckily, three times per day—at breakfast, lunch and dinner—everyone can make a positive impact by making sustainable food choices that directly impact the environment.
Such health professionals as registered dietitian nutritionists are taking an active role in educating and implementing sustainable food practices. Here are a few simple practices that can be beneficial to both the health of the body and the environment.
Plants vs. Meat
Vegetarianism and veganism are commonly promoted as being the best diets for the environment, though the perfect eco-friendly diet is more nuanced than a generalized statement. Produce and beans require less water and food to grow and less energy to transport than livestock. They also don’t release gasses, like methane, into the atmosphere like cows do. When compared to conventional, mass-produced meats, produce, beans and lentils are unequivocally the more sustainable option.
However, some eco-unfriendly foods sneak in under the vegetarian/vegan category. For example, many non-dairy milks, like almond milk, utilize major amounts of water and have a negative impact on the bee community. Additionally, plant-based meat products made from ingredients such as soy, may contribute to soil and monocropping issues, bringing their long-term impact on the environment into question.
Moreover, meat is not always bad for the environment. There are farms that prioritize regenerative farming practices in which livestock is used as an integral part of the farm’s ecosystem. This creates an extremely sustainable farming model. The animals help to fertilize the soil that is essential for growing nutrient-dense vegetables. The animals themselves are also healthier, therefore minimizing extremely toxic byproducts of factory- farmed livestock and maximizing the nutrition of the meat.
The task of finding the most sustainable diet lies somewhere between vegetarianism and carnivorism. When choosing vegetarian meals, incorporate unprocessed foods, like beans and lentils, rather than heavily processed plant-based meats. When eating meat, choose quality over quantity, looking for local farms in the area to support.
Part of reducing the environmental impact of food has nothing to do with the food itself. Rather, the amount of energy and resources that it takes for the food to get into one’s home contributes greatly to how sustainable the food is. For example, a banana that is grown in South America and transported to North America uses significantly more resources in transportation than a tomato purchased at a local farmers market.
When purchasing food, take a moment to ponder where the food has traveled from and how many stops it has made. Popular meal delivery companies act as third-party distributors that may further increase the energy used to transport food; the food must first travel to the company and then to the individual’s home. This may end up using more energy than purchasing food from a nearby grocery store. Better yet, supporting local farms keeps the mileage of food traveled even lower.
While it may often be hard to quantify the quantitative measures of these sustainable choices, our actions are heard. When the masses start to prioritize sustainably grown food, big businesses will adapt, local farms will thrive and small, ethical businesses will emerge. Being mindful of actionable items creates a dynamic where we can positively impact the environment with our forks.
Tamara Luck, RDN, LDN, is an integrative and functional dietitian in Waltham, MA. She is currently accepting new patients at Johnson Compounding and Wellness for virtual nutrition appointments. Schedule a free 15-minute introductory call at NaturalCompounder.com/Tamara.