How Green Is Your Family's Household?
Written by Tracy Brennan
Greening the Family Diet
When you peer into your refrigerator, what kinds of food do you see?
a. Organic all the way, baby!
b. Many foods produced locally
c. A stockpile of frozen convenience foods — all hail, Stouffer's!
d. A meat eater's paradise
Buy organic. Purchasing organic foods is not only best for your health, but it also has a positive impact on the environment. Organically produced foods don’t use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, which have been known to pollute soil and waterways.
Great Food Shopping Tips for Families:
Buying organic can get pricey. If you can’t afford to completely go organic, pledge to avoid these “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables in their non-organic form, as they tend to have the most pesticides used in their growth and production: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, pears, spinach, and potatoes. To read more about pesticides on many more produce items, check out the Environmental Working Group’s shopping guide.
Buy local. Buying locally produced food cuts down on “food miles,” i.e. the distance food has traveled before you buy it. Produce found in the average grocery store can travel as far as 1,500 miles from the farm/factory to your plate, a distance 27 times as far as food sourced locally. As an example, an amazing 40% of the fruit consumed in the United States is grown overseas. "Buying local," along with biking, driving a hybrid, and recycling, is thus a very realistic way that families can dramatically shrink their carbon footprint and be good stewards of the environment. Learn to count food miles as obsessively as a dieter counts calories.
Involve the family. Make it a weekly family event to visit your local farmer’s market. Have the kids help pick out fruits and vegetables they would like to try during the week, looking for ways to introduce their palates to new seasonal produce.
Made in the USA. If you are unable to purchase food locally, think in terms of purchasing foods produced and shipped from within the United States. Food shouldn't rack up frequent flier miles.
Start at home. You can go even more local by starting your own garden. Involve the kids to teach them how to live off the land. They will find it more fun to try foods they can pick from their own backyard.
Coffee consciousness. Given our lugubrious Northwest weather, that morning cuppa Joe often feels necessary to jumpstart our day. Not only should you be label-conscious with respect to coffee that is triple-certified — referring to shade-grown, fair-trade, and organic certifications that guarantee the liquid fortification you're consuming supports sustainable agriculture and fair labor standards — but reduce your use of disposable cups by investing in a ceramic or stainless steel mug. Stainless steel is a particularly great choice, given its durability and the fact that, on average, stainless steel contains 60% recycled content. Why it's enough to make you feel good about your caffeine addiction!
Paper or plastic, ma'am? This is a gimme: "Neither!" No use going ten rounds over which grocery-bagging option ultimately presents the greater environmental evil — just land on the unimpeachable side and bring your own reusable cloth bags to the market.
Reduce consumption of frozen prepared foods. It takes a lot of energy not only to produce frozen foods, but also to package, transport, and store them. Can't give up the convenience of frozen prepared foods altogether? Many families are busy these days, it's true, but together, committing to cooking dinner five nights a week without relying on frozen foods is an honorable and achievable goal.
Eat less beef. Because of their digestive systems, cows produce methane (AKA cow farts) as a byproduct, which “is 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.”
Educate yourself. Take a look at what the Environmental Working Group produced to show a graphic depiction of how harmful eating beef and other meats can be to the environment as compared to driving a car.
Methane-less Mondays. A growing number of earth-conscious families are joining the Meatless Monday movement, pledging to not eat any meat one day a week. You might also considering restricting cheese from your diet one or two days a week — the Environmental Working Group, along with the environmental consulting firm CleanMetrics, assessed the carbon footprint from manger to plate of 20 types of meat, dairy, and vegetables, and the top three foods that generate the most greenhouse gases were lamb, beef, and cheese. Those dastardly cow farts!
Want to learn more? Here are some great websites to explore for more ideas on adopting a lower carbon-impact diet: