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Green Choices Wednesday

Posted Sep 01 2010 3:19am
Eating Green

Simple processes such as making our daily dietary choices have a significant effect on our environment.  Every day, we have two major choices:  where our food is raised, and which foods we choose to eat.

Food Sources - Eating Local
There are a range of choices relating to the sources of our food.  The distance food travels has an impact on air quality.  Obviously, more greenhouse gases are generated transporting food raised farther away.  Buying locally raised food is preferable to buying food raised far away.  However, few areas have year-around growing seasons, or raise all of the products we wish to consume, so we have to make decisions and trade-offs.  For most of us, the decision comes down to eating foods raised as close to home as possible, and eating foods that are in season as much as possible.  And it's not a black and white choice between local and distant; there are a full range of options in between
1. Home gardening - the ultimate local source:   This is my favorite.  Every year, I grow fresh vegetables in my garden.  It just doesn't get any more local than my own back yard!  There is virtually no transportation involved; maybe just shipping the seeds.  I use home-produced compost instead of chemical fertilizers.  This has several benefits.  This method doesn't support the environmental effects of production and transportation of chemical fertilzer.  There is no resulting chemical runoff into the local watershed when it rains.  Composting my kitchen and yard waste keeps the waste out of landfills, reduces transportation effects from taking waste to landfills, and provides high quality, fresh, organically grown vegetables. 

2. Locally Raised: Visiting local farms or local farmer's markets are great choices.  Transportation is minimal, and locally raised foods are fresher.

3. Regionally Raised:  Many foods that are not available locally may be available regionally.  Any reduction in distance transported benefits the environment.  Here's an example.  When I buy a bag of oranges or grapefruit, I can usually choose between Texas, Florida and California citrus.  Living in Texas, I look for the Texas fruit.  Reading the labels on bags of various fresh produce often tells us the source of the food.  Being informed allows us to make better choices.

4. Nationally vs Internationally Raised:  There are a lot of options.  Do I want to buy apples from the state of Washington, or from New Zealand?  Big difference in distance.


Food Choices - What do we Eat?
What we choose to eat has at least as big an impact as the source of our food.  Choosing organically raised food is more environmentally sound because it is raised without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Grass-fed beef is a better choice than grain-fed beef.  Less meat is better than more meat.  Studies indicate that as much as 18% of all greenhouse gases are a result of meat production.  Grass is the natural diet for cattle.  Cattle raised on factory farms are fed grain, mostly corn, the digestion of which results in more methane generation than a natural grass diet.  Many people are choosing to eat less meat for many reasons, including health, concern for the environment, and concern for animal treatment.  Just as with food sourcing, there are a range of dietary choices
1. Meat Reduction:  Many people have chosen not to eat meat every day.  There is a popular Meatless Monday movement.  People have chosen not to eat meat one day per week.  If everyone did this, it would reduce enviromental impact by 1/7, or 14%.  Others have taken it a step further and go meatless several days per week.  My family did this for many years.

2. Flexitarian Diet:  This is a term that I only became familiar with last year, as I researched vegetarianism.  A flexitarian eats a virtually vegetarian diet, with only occasional meat.  The percentage of meat consumption is so low that the environmental impact is very close to that of a total vegetarian diet.  "Occasional" is defined by the individual.  It may be weekly, monthly, or even less.

3. Vegetarian Diet:  A no-meat diet, typically allowing dairy products and eggs.  This is my current choice.  Not as strict as vegan.  Dairy and eggs give two good sources of protein in the absence of meat.  Over the years, I trended from reduced meat, to mostly flexitarian, and finally to vegetarian.  After giving more and more thought to my concerns for the environment, and also to concerns about animal treatment, last year, I could no longer reconcile my views with continued consumption of meat.

4. Vegan Diet:  No meat or animal products at all, including dairy or eggs.

So, we face a lot of choices about our diet.  The choices are not black-or-white, all-or-nothing.  One doesn't have to go to the extreme on every choice.  Just think about your choices, make informed choices, and be aware that there is an effect that results from every choice.  The cumulative effect of many people just helping a little is huge.

Think Green and Live Green!
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