Last Tuesday I saw the documentary Food, Inc. and it changed my life. Although it had a relatively minimal environmental focus, it still reminded me how important we are as consumers and how much our food purchasing decisions actually make a difference.
Think about it – 10 years ago you couldn’t really find any substantial amount of organic produce in mainstream supermarkets. Now, due to the demand for healthier and more sustainable products, the supermarkets are flooded with organic products from Oreos to macaroni and cheese. And for those of you who think you can’t afford eco-friendly foods on a college budget, think again. I will show you where, how, and what to buy to decrease your carbon “foodprint” while increasing the size of your wallet.
1. Skip the supermarket and head to your local farmer’s market. By shopping locally, you support your neighborhood farmer and decrease the amount of fossil fuels needed to transport your food. Most of the food sold at farmers markets is organic, and even if it’s not, you still increase the amount of in-season crops that you purchase. Plus, by cutting out the middle man (i.e. the supermarkets) you can usually get a better price for healthier foods. Find a farmer’s market (or two!) in your town by visiting www.localharvest.org.
2. Order delivery. If you don’t have time to hit the farmer’s market, you should check out community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs in your area. When you subscribe to a CSA, you buy your produce directly from a farmer. Your produce usually comes in a giant box per week that the farm delivers directly to you or to a pick-up spot near you. The best part about the box is that all of the produce is in-season, fresh, and organic. Each week’s box is a surprise filled with vegetables and fruits that you never knew existed. It’s a great opportunity for you and your roommates to share the expense (and the cooking!) of eco-friendly, healthy foods.
3. Be picky. As much as we’d like to, most of us can’t afford to buy solely organic foods. Skip the confusion at the grocery store head to www.foodnews.org. This website lists various produce items in order of their tendency to be contaminated with pesticides. Some of the most contaminated foods include peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, and strawberries. These are foods that you should definitely buy organic if you can. If you’re strapped for cash, don’t worry about onions, avocados, pineapples, mangoes, and asparagus – these have the lowest pesticide load of all produce.
4. Eat your vegetables. It takes far less energy to produce vegetables than meat, dairy, and produce. Each year, livestock consume about half of the grains and oilseeds grown in the U.S., which requires huge amounts of pesticides and fertilizers to produce. They are also constantly sprayed with insecticides and injected with antibiotics to keep them healthy despite their too-tight living quarters. All of this requires tons of energy and produces a huge amount of pollution. Instead, limit your consumption of meat, dairy, and seafood or buy organic meats and wild seafood if you can’t go without. Even just adopting a “meatless Mondays” tradition can decrease your carbon “foodprint” by leaps and bounds.
5. Avoid processed foods. If you can’t do any of the above, simply choosing fresher, non-processed foods can do tons of good for the environment and your health. Processed foods require dozens of ingredients (most of which are artificial and/or doused in pesticides) to produce and preserve the product. Most of these ingredients are shipped in from all over to a main processing plant before the finished product is even shipped out to supermarkets. Avoid the “mystery ingredients” and vow to only eat food made with ingredients you can actually pronounce.
Food production is one of the top sources of greenhouse gases and pollution. Be sure to educate yourself before you put something like that in your body! If you want more information, check out the documentary Food, Inc., go to www.coolfoodscampaign.org, or check out books like Fast Food Nation and In Defense of Food.