5 Foods to Eat & 5 to Avoid that Help the Planet

This past summer Environmental Advocates was fortunate to have Julia Randall, a talented writerand a sophomore at Williams College in Williamstown, M.A., working with us. 

While here, Julia had the opportunity to work on a variety of environmental issues. Below are Julia’s tips to eat healthy and help the planet! 

We all contribute to climate change in direct and indirect ways. Directly, we purchase gasoline for our cars that is burned, which releases carbon into the atmosphere. Indirectly, we make incidental purchases each day that harm the environment without much thought. Our food purchases are one of the indirect ways we affect the climate. Here are some simple changes you can make to your diet today to help reduce your carbon footprint and mitigate climate change:

Foods to eliminate:

  1. Eliminate meat—The bottom line: meat is bad news for the environment. Cattle are particularly bad offenders as they are major producers of methane which is a byproduct of their digestive systems. Methane, a greenhouse gas, has twenty times the insulating power of carbon and more effectively traps heat in our atmosphere, which facilitates global warming. In 2006, the United Nations reported that more greenhouse gasses are produced by raising livestock than by all of the cars and trucks in the world combined. Cattle are also more costly to raise and feed than pigs and chickens, both of which consume less food and produce fewer emissions.
  2. Eliminate animal products—A plant-based vegan diet that excludes meat, eggs, and dairy generates the least cost to the environment. Vegetables, fruits, grains, and soy protein are much better options for the environment than animal products. Vegans go a step beyond vegetarians in eliminating emissions and food waste.
  3. Cut back on sugar—The harvesting of sugar requires the mass deforestation of subtropical forests which are essential fighters of climate change. Growing sugar also leads to the pollution of wastewater and runoff with pesticides.
  4. Avoid palm oil—Palm oil is often found in processed candies, chocolate, margarine, and even some shampoos and beauty products. It is in high demand around the world and it is leading to alarming deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, where 85% of all palm oil is harvested.
  5. Avoid high-fructose corn syrup—Excessive farming of corn in one area strips the soil of nutrients it needs. This leads to soil erosion, which farmers combat by using pesticides and fertilizers. Eventually the soil becomes so stripped that nothing can be grown there. In addition, making corn syrup is highly energy-intensive.

Foods to incorporate:

  1. Emphasize produce—The food that’s best for us is also what’s best for the environment. Opt for locally grown produce which has a lower carbon footprint and is likely to be fresher. Or, better yet, grow your own produce with hanging plants or in a victory garden.
  2. Soy protein—Foods made with soy protein like tofu and tempeh are great alternatives to meat.
  3. Whole wheat carbs—Refined carbs like white bread and pasta go through additional refining processes, consuming more energy and stripping the grains of fiber and other essential nutrients. Whole wheat carbs take less energy to produce and provide important nutrients.
  4. Whole foods—Instead of eating foods that seem healthy but are actually stripped of their fiber and nutrients and may have added sugars, colors, and preservatives (juices, cereals, granola, etc.), eat as many whole foods as possible.
  5. Organic food—When food is grown with limited pesticide use, it can help keep chemicals out of the water supply and ensure the health of the soil by keeping it from eroding.
  6. A rule of thumb when it comes to food and climate: if it’s good for your body, it’s good for the environment. Give these changes a try and see what works best for you!