Studying nutrition has given me a strong appreciation for the earth and how incredibly it provides for us. A side effect of learning about vitamins, phytonutrients and energy balance has been a deeper understanding about where food comes from that I never thought about when I first decided to become a registered dietitian. Like politics or religion, feelings about preserving the earth are personal, but Earth Day reminds us all to reflect on how well we are doing our part to preserve our natural resources. Today I share with you some little steps you can take in the name of Mother Earth.
Shop wisely. If you don’t have the time, interest or energy to look up all of the brands to see if they are extracting natural resources or over taxing the earth’s energy supply, shop at stores with high ethical standards. Let them do most of the work for you and feel good supporting markets that have environmentalism in their mission. A couple of obvious choices include: Trader Joes and Whole Foods. You can also see if your favorite supermarket is environmentally conscious by visiting: http://www.fairtradeyoursupermarket.org/. At the very least, most big supermarkets have organic or natural food sections – look for fair trade and the organic seals and rest easy that you are making better decisions.
While the produce argument reigns – local vs. organic – you don’t have to fight on the same side of the argument at all times. People who promote local eating (even if pesticides and other non-organic practices are used) argue that food should be eaten when in season because it is most fresh and healthful. The close proximity of food travel cuts down on fuel and transportation costs, and food is fresher. When shopping at a local farmer’s market, it is easy to choose foods that have been pulled from the earth less than 24 hours earlier. In addition many farmers use organic practices but are unable to label it as such because the cost of organic certification is too high.
People in the organic-is-better-than-local camp will say it is best to choose foods (even if they have traveled long distances) that have been raised free from pesticides and in a way that is sustainable to the earth. The truth is that unless you feel really strongly on one side or the other, you do not need to over-think this debate and drive yourself mad. I tell my clients to do the best they can. Produce reigns, so however you can best get your fruits and vegetables in, you can feel good about choosing anything green you eat. When you can, try to buy local and organic, but if you are faced with one or the other, look at the produce. Smell it. Touch it. Local or organic, your body is healthiest when fueled on produce.
In the end, your small part may be as simple as the message we teach small children. Follow the 3R’s to reduce your personal footprint. The first R stands for reduce. I usually am telling people to reduce their consumption to manage their weight, but there is another reason as well! Simply using less natural resources (including food) will help make sure there is enough for everyone and the earth can continue to provide to meet our needs. The Natural Resource Defense Council estimates the average American throws away 33 pounds of food each month. This food goes into our garbage and landfills, producing gasses that damage the atmosphere. Save the estimated $40 that 33 pounds of food costs and reduce your waste.
The second R stands for reuse. I am a big lover of the cloth bags people are toting to carry their market and store purchases. They are bright, educational, sometimes clever, and so much better than the pile of bags that once filled our closets! I encourage us all to be less quick to chuck things that could otherwise be reused. Be creative: swap old clothes or donate them to a church or charity; stop buying plastic wrap and use plastic containers instead; make a point to use glass jars for storage and as vases; retain single socks to use for dusting!
Finally the third R is for recycle. Choose products such as cards and paper goods that are made from recycled materials. Repurpose your stained clothing as rags. Make sure that you separate your garbage from the recyclables and do your part to make sure the containers and packaging you choose can be turned into something that can be new again. If you are really interested in doing your part, check out www.recyclebank.com – a website that helps you measure your green efforts and rewards you for taking earth preserving steps.
Happy Earth Day, one and all. I encourage you to reflect for a moment and appreciate nature’s bounty. Consider your part in caring for Mother Earth.