How to Eat for Health and Environmental Sustainability
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
By Kebbie Stine, MNT
Opinions swirl all around us about the best way to eat for our health, but what about the health of this planet we call home? The foods we eat, the way these foods are produced and the way they are packaged all have huge impacts on the environment. I am sure we can all agree that the consumption of highly processed foods (containing refined carbohydrates, added sugars, refined oils, and chemical additives and preservatives) are bad for our health. What may not be so obvious is that this way of eating is also negatively impacting the environment via deforestation, climate change, air/water pollution, mineral and water loss on a catastrophic scale.
There are 7.7 billion people on Earth and Big Agriculture seems like the most efficient way to feed everyone at a time of huge population growth, but is it sustainable? Let’s take a closer look by beginning at the farm. Farming used to be diversified on smaller plots of land, meaning various types of food would come from one geographical area. With the dawn of Big Agriculture came industrialized farming and monocultures, meaning millions of acres may be designated to a specific crop; like corn, wheat or soy. Monocultures use the nutrients from the soil to the point of devastating degradation. Once this happens chemical fertilizers and pesticides must be used in order to obtain the yields required by food corporations to make our “convenience foods” that we have come to depend on. These changes also altered animal husbandry practices to include cattle/pig feedlots and huge poultry and egg warehouses. These conditions are not only inhumane for the animals forced to live in such tight quarters, but also create waste in the water supply, substantial amounts of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, and the utilization of valuable resources for feed (which comes from monoculture mega farms).
Once the food leaves the farm headed for the processing plant, it goes through many stages before hitting the supermarket shelves. Food processing involves any method used to turn fresh food into a food product. This can include anything from grinding, cooking, fermenting, and pasteurization to the inclusion of additives, preservatives, or other chemicals to improve flavor and add to shelf life. Processing practices often strip fresh foods of beneficial nutrients which are then added back (or fortified) in the form of synthetic forms of the nutrient lost. This all ends with packaging. Each stage utilizes fossil fuels for energy, water, and the need to dispose of non-food materials used in the process. After all of this effort and use of resources to make tasty food to feed the masses, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that “food waste and packaging accounts for nearly 45% of materials sent to US Landfills”. We can do better.
In comes Regenerative Farming, the future of sustainable food. Regenerative, or Sustainable, Farming utilizes practices like crop rotation, cover crops, minimal soil propagation, mobile animal shelters, pasture cropping, manure fertilizers, organic pest control, and composting to grow food while also maintaining soil integrity. According to Regeneration International these farming and grazing techniques can actually reverse environmental impacts of agriculture and climate change by “rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity - resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.” Plants use CO2 in the air via photosynthesis to feed the plant and then store the carbon back in the earth; with minimal tilling practices the carbon stays in the soil. Ohio State’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center estimates that carbon sequestration through regenerative agriculture could offset fossil fuel emissions by up 15%, and total global emissions by up 10%. That is a huge positive impact!
What can you do to minimize the effects of climate change while also improving your health? First and foremost stop buying processed prepackaged foods that pollute the environment and your body. Search out foods grown right here in Colorado! Many stores around town carry local foods, and we are lucky to live in a city that supports year-round farmers markets (a quick internet search will show you exactly where to go). Not only will you be supporting your health with fresh nutrient dense foods, but also the local economy and the environment...win-win. If you can’t find what you need locally choose organic which have higher standards for food production. Look for grass fed/grass finished meats and pasture raised poultry/eggs, all higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in toxins. Be aware of the quantity of food you are purchasing to avoid food waste, and strive to take your own bags (produce bags included) when shopping to minimize packaging. Let’s be the change to improving the environment and our health!
Sources: https://regenerationinternational.org/why-regenerative-agriculture/; http://www.foodsystemprimer.org/food-production/industrialization-of-agriculture/;
“Regenerative Agrcutue” describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
Kebbie Stine is a Master Nutrition Therapist in the Denver area. She practices nutrition therapy at Washington Park Chiropractic and is the owner of Whole Choice Nutrition Therapy. Contact Kebbie at email@example.com