Our thoughts, actions, practices, and habits affect our health, but they also have an impact on the health of others and the health of our planet. Realizing this undeniable fact gives us the opportunity to create a better life for ourselves, but also to have a direct, positive impact on our world. Here are 7 practices that are not only good for you, but good for everyone on our planet.
- Reduce your intake of meat and animal products. Americans consume about 52 billion pounds of meat each year – that’s about 270 pounds for each one of us, and more than just about every country in the world. Many of us don’t eat meat, so it means there are a lot of others out there making up the difference. America’s meat habit has had a devastating effect on our environment and is the main driving force behind the destruction of the tropical rain forests of the Amazon. Livestock production is also responsible for more than half of all water consumed for all purposes in the United States.
- Eat less, waste less. With 8 out of 10 Americans over the age of 25 overweight or obese, most of us need to reduce our calorie intake. The easiest way to do this is to reduce our portion sizes. Don’t be wasteful; only order or prepare what you intend to eat. Here is a startling statistic: Americans waste more than 40% of the food produced for consumption. That comes at an annual cost of more than $100 billion. If we didn’t waste these foods, it would mean less fertilizer, pesticide, and water used. That has huge environmental repercussions.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables All medical organizations and departments of the U.S. government dealing with health recommend that Americans consume 2-3 servings of fruit and 3-5 servings of vegetables a day. Unfortunately, less than 10% of the population is meeting even the lowest recommendation of 5 servings of a combination of fruits and vegetables. If we ate more of these foods and fewer foods that require a lot of water to produce, it would dramatically shift water requirements, especially important to states like California.
- If you eat meat, choose organic. Industrially farmed meat has the highest impact of any other food product on the environment. If you do eat meat, always go organic. Not only are the animals raised in a healthier environment, fed organic feed, and often eat a wider range of nutrients than those raised in factory farms, but they are not allowed to be fed antibiotics, the bovine human growth hormone (rbGH), or other artificial drugs. Animals are higher on the food chain, so it’s even more important to eat organic meats than organic produce (which I also recommend).
- Go local. One of the most powerful ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to buy locally grown and processed foods. Not only is the food likely to be fresher than if it were shipped halfway across the world, but it is likely to taste better and retain more nutrients. Your money has power; choose to support stores that demonstrate care for the planet by offering local food selections. And, by supporting your local farmers and growers, you will be supporting your local economy.
- Avoid fast food chain restaurants. America’s love affair with fast food restaurant chains has not only hurt our health (and waistlines), it has also caused considerable environmental damage. In addition to the issues raised above, fast food outlets are our country’s primary source of urban litter. Styrofoam and other food packaging materials are a huge problem, as they often become a permanent fixture in our environment when littered. These lightweight materials easily travel through gutters and storm drains to create one of the largest sources of marine debris. Approximately 1 million birds and 100,000 turtles and other sea animals die of starvation each year after ingesting discarded Styrofoam, plastics, and other food packaging, which block their digestive tracks.
- Avoid plastic. While there is some concern over the health effects of various plastics leaching into our food and drinks, of greater concern is their environmental impact. Even choosing plastic over paper at the store has a negative impact. Only a small percentage of plastic bags are recycled — which means that the rest end up in landfills, oceans, or elsewhere in the environment. In addition, the 100 billion new plastic bags used each year in the United States require 12 million barrels of oil to produce. So, bring a reusable bag with you to the grocery store next time you shop.